Saturday, 26 November 2022

AD4 and more in Windows 11

Just as the time we turned into Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7 or beyond...it's time for us to solve compatibility issues.

From 10 to 11, they changed more on UI but we were not driven too far away from the old system: many of the changes made in system settings and control panel were already in later updates in win10. They removed some more personalization utilizes since then, but you can pretty much do everything as in the previous versions.

One big complaint though, is how they removed the shortcut keys in the file explorer, like W on right click to create new folder...why must I move my cursors there? Even more interesting, the Win10 file explorer is clearly intact -- for example when you choose the save destination in browsers you get the original file explorer as in Win10. I however tried to apply registry changes to block the new Win11 from loading forcing the old one but no luck, I guess they blocked these naive methods...

Desktop only input method

Since the introduction of MetroUI, it has been a problem to use those old input methods as they do not fit with MetroUI. They changed quite a lot in language settings, giving more of a hard time for these input methods.

I installed the old input method just fine in Windows 10, but in order to activate the Ctrl-Shift shortcut to change the input methods, one needs to install multiple language and multiple input methods to those languages. For example it won't work if you only have Chinese language installed with "Microsoft default input method + some old obsolete input method". Instead you install the Japanese package as well then it works with "Microsoft default input method + some old obsolete input method + Japanese input method". (For more: IME disabled in Windows 11/10)

In Windows 11 I have to apply a registry change in order to get the input method going. These fixes are nothing new but once you have to do that you know what you have been using is another step into the swirl of compatibility issues.

After Dark 4 and screensaver

The screensaver function were kept largely the same in Win11. At this point we can pretty much set everything via registry that changes in the setting menu don't matter anymore unless they completely removed screensaver...

What I wrote about installing AD4 in Windows 7 and 10 still works in Win11. Install in WinXP compatibility mode, retry if a file can't be installed and skip if a file was missing. Use the .bat file from the YouTube video to apply settings to those AD screensavers. I actually spent less time installing it in Win11 than on 7 and 10!

Thursday, 17 November 2022

Simon Marais 2022

So this year I am not almost a year late. It's always a joy for me to deal with these questions. Here are my immediate thoughts after reading the scripts -- immediate means that I didn't put any serious effort into it and didn't do any calculations that requires pens and papers.

One changes they made was to split the tournament into two time zones to reduce the chance of possible cheating but I can only say that it's far to easy to cheat at institutional level if they wanted to...but the good news is that we will get four more questions to solve.

A2. A very nice combinatorial little question but should be A1 in my eyes. The $e^{-2}$ made me think of derangement since $n!/!n \approx e$ but no luck in that. Eventually you realize that the question is much much easier -- this is just the chance of an item appearing in at least one but not all $n$ subsets, for all $2^n$ elements.

A3. IVT because why not? But I don't like this question due to the lack of elegance...

A4. Two parts in the question. Showing that to be an integer is a standard high school MO question. The second part...something with field if it's put as a Q4? Bad luck if you didn't do enough math olympiad in high school.

B2. Question that I love so much because imagine getting that in the 1985 A-level (HKALE) pure maths paper! This is not a joke and is totally possible. Since the non-zero terms are of even degree, the roots are symmetrical along the real axis, hence the circle centre is real. That means the roots are on a circle centered at origin upon a real translation. Boom!

B3. Easy if you consider the "1D" version first. This game can't be any simpler...

B4. (a) is easy as a Q4a (unless I made a mistake): classify $2[b_n/20]-3[a_n/30]$ based on $a_n-b_n$ in intervals of 10. Since the difference between that term and $(b_n-a_n)/10$ is at most 3 that gives you the idea of splitting the cases $a_n-b_n$ being either between -10 and 20, above 20 or below -10. The first case gives the induction and the latter cases gives strict monotonicity which gives the claim. 

(b) is surprisingly elegant as an open question. It is not easy to think of other open problems as simple as this other than the 3n+1 conjecture.

C2. ...why? Instead of a A-level pure maths question you give a calculus I assignment question... The ceiling function means that ceil(sin x) is either 0 or 1. The irrationality of $\pi$ means that the term is negative, hence rounded up to 0, at least $0.5 - \varepsilon$ of the time. If irrationality is too hard, it is still easy to argue that at least one out of four consecutive terms is of power -1 (diverges) instead of -2 (converges), then the comparison with $\sum \frac{1}{4n}$ gives the desired result.

C3. Classic MO question again. If you are not sure, consult lower cases like $n = 7, 12, 17...$ etc.

C4. Another good question but looks quite intimating other than the $(n-1)!$ term who's there for the obvious reason.

You ask me why aren't there Q1s above? The answer is clear: they do not worth talking at all. Q2s are very easy (probably of Q1 level in past papers or even lower) in my eyes but Q1 are even easier. They looked ugly and tedious, but not hard. Q3s are easy to moderate, but I don't think they are as hard as Q3s in the past. Q4s are hard as they should be, but that means the Q3-Q4 gap is even larger. 

This is not a very good contest paper not just in terms of difficulty spread, but also in terms of the scope -- many of the questions are plain high school MO level. Take 2021 putnam for example and check what they used: non-integral binomial theorem, qZ rings, double integrals, fancy polynomial about primality, geometric probability, infinite sum, Green's theorem (if you don't recognize B3), matrices and determinants. These are things that contestants are expected to use inside that examination. They should really expand in terms of number of questions with more challenging ones (but not as hard as those Q4s) and make sure that college maths were cooperated into the questions...

Sunday, 13 November 2022

Thoughts on CTWC2022 final

Best moment of CTWC22': (1) The unimaginable 2mil+ score and (2) 80k lead is like nothing... Source

This is the first live event held in reality since covid in 2020. Everything was done in 3 days so you don't get the week by week excitement so it's kind of a different experience. I only watched the final feed when they uploaded that today though, so here is my thought.

When aGameScout talked about top 6 players around, it's quite clear that the top 4 players as top 4 seeds are better than the rest. Among the four the top 2, Eric and fractal are also above the other two by a significant amount. It is almost expected that they would meet in the grand final.

I thought they put the lv49 level cap in effect but apparently they don't, and it's nice that they didn't cause otherwise we won't have the wonderful match extended to level 70 and beyond. The tactic of the two is clear: Eric relies on his consistency throughout and Fractal tried to be aggressive early on (which is why he made the record of Tetris streak in the semifinal). That would give him an advantage of 100-150k before level 29. This seems to be quite a lot in early post-29 levels but early reversible at very late stages (lv 50 and beyond) even with single and doubles. With that Eric withstood the headwind, patiently waited for Fractal's mistake and eventually caught up and took the 3 victories he needed.

The performance of the two had been very close from start to end. They performed almost the same not only in terms of score and efficiency. It may not be clear during online events, but when they share the same piece sequence it became apparent that they would meet difficulty at the same time other than a few scattered individual mistakes. That is true even when the two board looked different. Number of samples may not be enough but to me this is the result of a similar placement logic that it's just weak to similar piece sequence. That was mentioned in the last entry and now partially verified, although we won't have more live events in a short period time for now.

Like the past two years my roadmaps had been beaten over and over, but I shall not stop making predictions. For games like this it is always the trade between efficiency and consistency. There is a trade between the two, but there is no stopping you from improving yourself to raise the possible sum of the two. 

Last year when the rolling technique was still immature there were inconsistencies at even level 18 speed. But this year not only that they solved the problem, they even have excess consistency that can be converted into extreme efficiency at the same speed as demonstrated by Fractal. This is possibly a shock to other participants because if you are 100k or more behind it will be extremely hard for you to hold and catch up (lest you are Eric). This will probably become the meta in foreseeable months. It may not be as extreme as Fractal's strategy but there is a marginal return for consistency so it does not hurt to be a bit more aggressive when you are so proficient. 

Top rollers can deal with level 19 speed considerably steady as seen in the tournament. Fractal's aggressiveness does not apply here -- he try to be a bit more aggressive at game 4, took the pill, didn't work out and lost the game. In terms of input density it's more or less the same across strategies, but it's all about mindset and muscle memory. At level 18 speed top players are very relaxing and can very easily spare their time react to commentators or lifting their glasses. This is much harder at level 19 where they start to focus a bit more into the game. Decisions are made with instincts at this point so everyone is using a balanced strategy just like what they did in the past, including times when rolling wasn't a thing. Perhaps there will be players trying to play level 19 just like under level 18 speed, but this is not happening now.

And for post level 29 gameplay? Survival. You may be able to get Tetrises occasionally but there is nothing you can do if you topped out even if you lead by 200k points. It's just a matter of maybe 50 lines or even less, and as long as the opponent survives they will eventually overcome the deficit and takes the victory. 

Well, another possibility is if players managed to score triples and Tetrises much more frequently than they do now so that efficiency overwhelms survivability, but that would raise the average stack height by a lot more making that very risky for now. But who knows?

The grand final match was around 58 minutes long, a lot longer than the last year's average at about 38 minutes. Even with the excitement of level 29 gameplays that just too long. There had been voices to apply measures to shorten the games. Funnily, level 18 and 19 actually distinguished themselves in this year's final where level 18 is where you may take things to the extreme while you can't in level 19. I would take 'starting from level 19' as a solution in the past, but probably not now. How about shortening both level 18 and 19, say cutting 30 lines each? Admittedly they did not have the level 49 cap in effect which means that they are still playing the authentic game in full, but any further changes to the rules would likely deviate from the original game that we should not worry too much about that.

Some said that it is still far too early to talk about fatigue and the end of the techniques. Yes that is true. Players still evolved hugely this year and we still have considerable room for improvements. But the end is not that far away. Taking the learning curve of players into consideration I won't be surprised if anything I randomly baselessly claimed above actually happen in 2023/2024 CTWC or earlier. It would be the time for organizers to very seriously rethink about the tournament format. Some experimental changes may also be tested in smaller or online events as well. Just make some preparation before changes must be made.

At the end there is one thing for sure though. I enjoyed the tournament this year a lot just as usual, and I anticipate the one next year too. If you have no experience in classic Tetris you should really have a look at the clips and admire how people adopt and play games to the extreme. ;)

Tuesday, 8 November 2022

Re:classic Tetris

Classic Tetris has been developing so quickly especially since covid in 2020, and it evolves in the speed that no one anticipated at the beginning. Since CTWC2022 is now ongoing (you should definitely check out the livestreams!), it is a good time to give a brief review now.

I had a roadmap for those players for the coming year -- for hypertappers, consistency is something they almost perfected, so the next step is to study how to hypertap properly in post-29 scenario like distribution on stamina or aggressiveness etc. For rollers, consistency is the issue so they should think about different approach for pre-29 like a hybrid, or just drill for consistency after all.

The roadmap was based on my afterthoughts after watching CTWC21' as well as some masters' at that time. Remember what happened last year in CTWC? Hypertappers still had an edge over rollers with their consistency before and post-29 to overcome the huge advantage of rollers after-29. Well, not anymore.

The classic tetris community overwhelmingly overachieved. It is now apparent that rollers have cashed their potential to the point that hypertappers are sidelined in tournaments. They can now play at least properly (in hypertapping standard) pre-29 and they usually last very long post-29. They don't need loads of post-29 Tetrises -- singles and doubles will do the job if you can reach level 34, 39 and beyond.

There are countless evidences showing that these shifts are apparent. Among those are the dropping proportion of hypertappers in the monthly event (oh and DAS players were gone) and jaw dropping records on high scores, lines counts as well as match duration. It is the best to look at aGameScout's video for more details.

CTWC this year is of no difference. The field is clearly dominated by rollers with their advantage increasing over the rounds. Rollers besides world's top few are still inconsistent and often ends the game with five-digits scores, but just by the fact that they entered elimination suffices to show that they can be unstoppable when the pieces aren't too bad or when they are in their zone. Top rollers just steamrolled those less proficient rollers with their consistency. You stand no chance if they clear pre-29 almost like a top hypertappers then survives many levels after that. We have had many 3-0s just in that way already this year.

The top players are capable of playing so long that CTWC hosts decided to add a level 49 cap. Although just as aGameScout's video pointed out, such measure does not help much as (1) players do not reach lv 49 that often and even if they do the score difference is quite large for turnover to be rare (2) there are clearly more options to shorten the game like starting from level 19 speed. Of course this is a good starting point for us to investigate the possible restructuring of this game in competitive mode.

The fundamental problem I afraid is a much bigger one -- what is the future of the game and the tournament?  

One thing about these kind of tournament is to admire the progress of the game and gamers, to admire how they evolved in the past year. This is clear for CTWC where we evolved from DAS to hypertapping to rolling with the champion going from Jonas to Joseph to Andy to whoever rolling. Even during the pre-explosion early days of the tourney the players are getting better with qualification score getting higher year over year. This is what we would like to see.

With the ever higher consistency from the top players, what might happen in the future is that they only top out to tail events i.e. pieces lineup that is bad to their respective placement logic (note that this may not be equivalent to the universally bad pieces lineup like consecutive S and Z pieces). Since survival proved to be much more valuable than just a few Tetrises, optimized placement logic would eventually converge. Eventually what we would see is two players playing is more or less the same style and the result is heavily luck based. Is that...something we want? 

Yeah of course it's always thrilling to yell "BOOM TETRIS" or to observe Tetrises exchanged back and forth, but statistically this is getting boring. I don't think the popularity of the monthly events would be a good measure for that, but we will see what's with CTWC this year. Some of the all time highlights, if I were to pick, would be 2020's Dog v Koryan, 2018's Joseph v Jonas or 2016's Jeff v Jonas. Are there any eye catching moments from last year's CTWC? Not really if you check the view count. 

It is always nice to have all those monthly events as popularity explodes with lockdown, but with more frequent matchups things evolved and get optimized at a hyped exponential rate -- then at a point suddenly things become less attractive to look at.

This is the unfortunate thing that always happen. Just look at all the commercial sports: basketball (that basically physicality dominates), baseball (the "magic ball"), football (that's why we need blue lock)...that have lost their mystical cover and transformed into just another game of numbers.

Should we expect hype from the tournament this year? I'd wish so...

Friday, 7 October 2022

古早遊戲BGM巡遊(1): Marble Zone

很多古早遊戲BGM背後都有一段故事,當中很多都在我不同作品裡帶過。有一些沒法放進作品裡的,或者真的只是單純喜歡一首音樂會間中想回去聽的話還不如這樣獨立寫出來。

作為開首先來一個有點冷門的好了。

Sonic 1的Marble Zone。


Green Hill Zone有點過度活躍,Starlight Zone像嘉年華或者credit roll,唯有Marble Zone休閒中帶點懷舊才能讓當時還是小孩的我一聽鍾情,那個右手(/高音部/鈴聲...)的伴奏簡直是一絕。

不要被Marble Zone作為第二關給騙了,這個關卡在遊戲系列裡面算得上是超難。熔岩地形也算了,有一段下面全是熔岩,只能靠連續跳過平台通過。加上超嚴判定和跟任系(尤其瑪莉奧)物理體系完全不同,使得它成為我少數小時候在純技術面上卡死的遊戲之一(另一個是MSDOS上面的瑪莉奧,不是Mario & Luigi,在msdos遊戲網上看過應該不難找)。即使我現在在switch上面玩也不見得可以輕鬆不續命下打過,你就知道這一關可以對小孩造成多大的童年陰影。

在我的時代裡世嘉在家機市場上已經奄奄一息了。我接觸到的Sonic不是在大賣場裡(而且多半不是sonic 1)就是在任系平台GC和GBA上玩的到,但這堆遊戲的難度都遠不及最初本家那三作。順便一問,我在大賣場玩的時候看過一關一開場就跳彈弓,飛不夠遠會摔死的關卡。大家有印象是那一關嗎?沒記錯關卡有個hill字,但Sonic 2的Hill top zone並不長這樣,也不是3的mushroom hill zone。難道是魔改版嗎?

Sunday, 25 September 2022

Little math update

Something that I should jot down as diary...

IMO this year was easy in the sense that Q1,2,4,5 are all classified easy under my standard. Namely, I can almost immediately (i.e. maybe 15 mins) figure out an outline that eventually works. That usually applies only to Q1, 4 and 2 occasionally, but definitely not 5.

Q1 is a nice little problem, a rather rare combinatorial question that is put up front. The key is to realize that the operation puts the number of chains into a non-increasing sequence, and the only it does not decrease if and only if you are moving the first or last chain. From here the lower bound is obvious. Then you move the last chain a cyclic shift occurs so you need at least 4 chains to force the dead loop, so you can not have k larger than quarter-to-last of 2n. Tightness of the bound follows from the same idea.

People have been realizing that no matter how messy the inequality questions are the contestants will eventually find a way to brute force it and we saw no inequality question this year again. Q2 looks like a functional equation problem but you immediately realize that inequality technique is the only way out.

When you run through positive reals so x and y on the LHS could get pretty big, forcing f to be of o(1/n). Apply the same argument when x and y are small and you know f needs to be O(1/n) close to zero. With $y/x+x/y \geq 2$ in mind, it is almost obvious that$ f(x)=1/x$ is probably the only answer unless there exists some galaxy brain functions. 

The proof though not super hard, is still something that barely meets (or misses) the standard of Q2 which requires non-obvious AM-GM. A bit unfortunate though I think the most direct solution involved perturbation where inequality applies to a point and its neighborhood. Some may not be happy with the calculus flavor in it.

Q4 is geometry so nothing to comment about but it is...a Q4 and as hard as it should be.

I am fairly surprised for Q5 to be this easy like almost shocked. Prime power chasing gives you reasonable bound like 10 on the factorial. After that an average high school Olympiad contestant can do that. 

As usual Q3 and 6 are a bit too hot to attempt, but 3 is really elegant in my eyes.

*

I didn't cover Simon Marais last year as well and the next one is coming. If you are reading this and is a current undergraduate in one of the participating school you should really give it a go!

My comment to the overall design of the problem set still stands: the first three are always too easy and the fourth is impossible. In other words, only one question out of four (Q3) makes sense. This year though they make Q4 a bit more approachable which is a nice start.

My focus is on B3 though:

(SM2021 B3) Find all real functions f that satisfy the following:
1) The function f is Riemann integrable over all finite real intervals. and
2) For all real x and positive integer n we have 
$$f(x) = \int ^{x+1/n}_{x-1/n}f(t) dt.$$
The solution is of course linear functions. To prove it the first step is proving the continuity of the function which should be the must take step without any doubt. But then the rest of the official solution triggered me to think of something else.

It is the easiest to prove linearity by showing that the derivative is constant, or that the second derivative is zero. But then you need differentiability. There are two ways to prove differentiability: one is the first definition and the other is by FToC. First definition might be out of reach because condition (2) is for integer n but not for large enough positive reals, then there may be technical problem when you take the limit to zero.

The official solution uses FToC and writes f as a sum of its integral F, and hence is differentiable. From there it repeats and show that f'' = 0 showing that f must be linear which indeed satisfies the conditions.

But are there any ways to prove linearity without using derivatives? Specifically, are there any ways to replace the condition f'' = 0? The answer is convexity.

If we define a function f to be convex in (a,b) if $f(x) < f(a) + (x-a)(f(b)-f(a))/(b-a)$ for all $a<x<b$. Obviously if it is convex on an interval then it is convex on any of its subintervals. One can then argue that condition (2) fails for x in any convex interal. Eventually f cannot be convex at any point. Similarly f cannot be concave at any point.

That forces the equality $$\frac{f(x)-f(a)}{x-a} = \frac{f(b)-f(a)}{b-a}$$ which gives linearity (...or differentiability if you like but we don't need that already).

There is a technical problem though. We cannot exclude functions that the intersection between the function and the line between $(a, f(a))$ and $(b, f(b))$ being dense on the line for every real a and b. If we know differentiability then this is immediate (in the official solution the first derivative is obvious -- try it yourself!). Again, any solution that completely avoids differentiability? I am not so sure.

This is what I got during my bath. In 15 minutes, a lot longer than usual. 

Saturday, 17 September 2022

被青梅竹馬抓來(略) (5):要防飛刀就要用水鏡使其折射

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

宮庭魔法師。

這是給予極少數直接效忠於王室、頂級魔法師的頭銜。

宮庭魔法師又分虛職跟實職兩種。前者主要名義上只能效忠王室而不能效忠於其他貴族外並無太多限制,後者則是真正為王室工作的魔法師。他們會代表王室為政府提供咨詢,也會輪班負責各種魔法相關的任務,在空餘的時間他們則是領著預算做自己的研究。

作為王室必須籠絡的一批人,他們的俸祿福利不用多說,升官進爵的速度比起王室直屬另一支武裝力量--近衛騎士團--有過之而無不及。

與優厚的待遇相比,其選拔也極為嚴格。魔法學園魔法科出身排在十名開外而成為宮庭魔法師幾乎沒有,非魔法科出身而成為宮庭魔法師的人數是零。庫里斯口中「純熟操作三種屬性的人可以輕鬆成為宮庭魔法師」並沒有錯,只是「純熟」的標準跟學生們的想象差了許多而已。如果要說的話,庫里斯在競技場上施展的龍捲風的技法也許會被認可為純熟地操作風魔法的象徵。

為甚麼是也許呢?因為選拔並無標準可言,全憑宮庭魔法師們憑主觀判斷投票決定。只有獲得現任擁有實職的宮庭魔法師當中四分三贊成票的人才可以在王室認證後成為新晉的宮庭魔法師。雖說是主觀判斷,但大部分投票者都會遵從一些不成文的規則。比如:對以理論研究聞名的人的實際施法能力要求比較寬容,又或者可以純熟操作三種屬性的人一般都可以高票通過等等。

投下反對票的理據同樣全憑主觀判斷,理由也是五花八門:目前不缺宮庭魔法師、品行有問題、擅長的領域與某現任宮庭魔法師重疊太多等等都有。也有人覺得贊成票的比例很重要,因此在外面呼聲越高,他反而越應該被更嚴格的標準審視云云。

為免因為奇怪的投票制度而錯過一些人材,這個制度還有一個後門--應徵者可以有「說服」投票者的權利。雖然叫說服但用多半還是拳頭:應徵者可以選擇一個或以上對他投下反對票的人並對他們發起挑戰,如果應徵者能打贏他們的話則這些人的票自動變成贊成票。聽上去很簡單實際上卻很難,因為應徵者要面對的都是貨真價實的宮庭魔法師。

每個人一生只能應徵三次,如果得票不到三成則額外扣減一次機會。每年選拔裡真正會被考慮的大概只有三至五人,最後有一兩人能得到足夠票數就不錯了。

在如此嚴苛的要求下,剛從魔法學園畢業就想成為宮庭魔法師是不切實際的。一般的做法是畢業後成為某宮庭魔法師的學徒,在他手下打雜或者做各種研究、修行或冒險提升實力,等時機成熟了方能前往應徵。這過程花上十年的人不在少數--當然最好也不要花太長時間在這一步上面,因為年齡也是常見被投反對票的原因之一。可想而知,一個年輕的宮庭魔法師絕對是萬裡挑一的天才,被選為王親國戚的嫁娶對象也不意外。

布拉德那天晚上帶著的就是三個這樣的人。

其中兩人比庫里斯年長,一位比他年輕一點,三人顯然都是魔法學園的畢業生。年長的二人在學園裡與他並無交集,比較年輕的那位比他低一屆所以不認識,對方倒認識他就是了。

不得不承認,布拉德所教的或許沒法適用在所有學生上面,但是他培育精英真的有一手。這大概是一般人對他評價不怎樣但他能一直能待著的原因吧。

當天晚上布拉德隱晦地表示可以派他身邊的宮庭魔法師前來支援教學工作。庫里斯沒有立即接受或拒絕,表示他還要一點時間看看學生們的反應再決定怎樣教。

不過他怎可能讓當初教不好自己的人插手自己的教學工作呢?

然而或許是布拉德的指示,這三人一直纏著庫里斯聊各種魔法的話題。想也知道這十分反常,宮庭魔法師大部份都是天之驕子,怎可能拉下面子這樣纏著別人呢?

最後為他解圍的是蓋伊老師,也就是負責庫里斯那班級冒險科的老師。

以協調教學內容之名。

*

翌日,教師辦公室。

學生們週末不用上學,學園顯得比平時清靜許多。由於學園就在王都的中心地帶,學生和教師們週末可做的事情十分多,像庫里斯這種沒事做只能回校的人只是少數。

此刻他並不在自己的辦公室裡,而是在蓋伊老師的辦公室那邊。蓋伊是典型專業出身轉投學園的例子:從全職冒險者退下來以後,他一直為大公會進行新人指導的工作,後來才被挖到學園裡,這是庫里斯離開了以後的事。

昨天在派對上他們當然不會商量這些正經事,所以才約好了今天在辦公室裡見面。

學園裡大部分科目都是獨立成科的,只有冒險科是個例外。作為魔法學園,學習利用魔法輔助冒險當然是重中之重。相對魔法科本身更專注在基礎理論與如何使出各種魔法上面,冒險科的實用性顯然更強。絕大部分希望將魔法投入到戰鬥上的魔法科學生也會同時選修冒險科。

也許有人會覺得奇怪,為甚麼魔法科就不能多教一點實用的東西呢?這其實是供求得出的結果:一方面魔法理論才是學園壟斷的核心知識,把這些盡量往魔法科裡塞正好可以給它鍍金;另一方面還是有不少貴族對冒險此等肉體勞動沒興趣,專注於理論的課程才符合他們的需求。

蓋伊的辦公室裡一面牆壁掛上了一些兵器,顯然指導學生用的備品。辦公室的另一面牆壁上則貼滿了不同的地圖,上面不乏各種詳細的標記。一個帶有挑戰性但風險不會太高的環境對培育新人至關重要。把新人帶成傷殘甚至帶死了的話會要面對各種金錢賠償與名聲損壞等嚴重後果,這是在公會裡帶新人絕對要避免的事,在學園裡更是如此。這些地圖明顯是經過挑選適合對象學生挑戰的地下城地圖。

對於曾是學生的庫里斯來說,這些地圖並不陌生。他站在其中一張地圖面前問道:「這就是給我學生挑的地方嗎?看上去好像有點難啊。」

「你哪一隻眼看到是給你們班級的啊?這裡分明寫著三年級用的吧!」蓋伊指著地圖左側一張另外貼上去的筆記道:「這是個距離王都一小時車程的地下城。地下六層以下未被完全探明,但根據其他目擊報告來看應該沒有意料之外的危險。課題是探索第六層未開發的區域,作為暑假回來的熱身十分合理。」

「唔~原來三年級都在玩這些,可惜我還沒讀到就跑了呢。」

「別開玩笑了,你以為我沒聽過你在邊境冒險的功績嗎?」他轉身指向另一張地圖。相較三年級那張只填了一半的地圖,蓋伊正指著的這張地圖非常完整,其地形也簡單得多。「這張才是給你們玩的。」

「嗯……」這次他很快就在地圖旁邊找到指示:「王都裡面的地下城、地下二三層、課題是探索定點及收集指定素材--那個地下城不是人超多那一個嗎!還要是這種層數,與其說是探險不如說是郊遊吧。說不定在裡面要找個地方野餐都不容易呢!」

「沒錯,就是郊遊。而且你一年級第一次去地下城的時候不也是同一地方同一課題嗎?」

「你這樣一說我好像記起來了……」

蓋伊嘆了口氣道:「被你說成郊遊也沒辦法。公會基本上不會考慮沒有探險經驗的新人的,但是這邊學生的話……你知道就算是再低能的地下城也會有人因為在密閉空間裡而戰鬥時亂了手腳的嗎?」

「那我問你,你在公會裡是怎樣訓練新人的?」

「我們可不會考慮沒有探險經驗的新人的啊。一上來就可以在指導員陪同下隨隊,習慣了以後逐漸把工作強度加上去,跟不上的話就淘汰掉,就是這麼簡單。」

「這麼說來這裡最大的問題是探險經驗不足所以只能先從最簡單的任務累積經驗,還有公會的指導方法沒法應用在一大群學生身上吧。」

「別以為我不知道你在想甚麼,」蓋伊哼了一聲:「你跟王女殿下侍衛的互動都傳到我這邊來了。我看你又想把教學方案打倒重來吧?」

「不要誤會,我只是覺得做些浪費時間的事情對大家都沒好處而已。」庫里斯連忙澄清:「不如你把時間省下來上課,然後把學生分成小組由我和你分批帶他們進地下城歷練?就算我們不能像公會那樣一個指導員帶一個新人,帶一個小隊效果也比帶一整班讓他們自由發揮好多了。」

「我才不要。」蓋伊拒絕的很乾脆:「我又不是你學生,沒義務為了你增加自己的工作負擔。帶一次幾乎要用上一整天,你以為我跟你一樣在王都了無牽掛可以把時間花在學生身上嗎?」

「習慣了在公會帶新人的你在這裡帶人郊遊就不覺得無聊嗎?你就不想試試新的方法嗎?」

「……」

一陣對望之後蓋伊聳了下肩道:「……罷了,就按你說的做吧。不過我沒空帶這麼多人,帶三分一學生就是我的極限了。」

「嗯這個沒問題。」

「我有兩個條件:一、我要你幫我跟我一些老朋友組隊去打一些素材回來。」

「如果不影響教學進度這個可以啊。」

「第二……我倒想看看你實力如何,到底憑甚麼得到不同小隊的青睞。」說罷便從腰間抽出一把匕首。作為新人指導他各種武器都略會一點,但靈活多變的匕首才是他的至愛。

「不覺得試探別人實力是件很不禮貌的事嗎?」話雖如此說,一把翠綠色的短劍浮現在他的右手上。忽然他看見蓋伊老師身後浮著甚麼若有若無的東西,當下便把短劍縮成匕首的長度。

「看穿了嗎,果然是風魔法的專家。」蓋伊擺出戰鬥姿勢,匕首緩緩舉到胸前。

「你也不賴嘛,我甚至感覺不到你把空氣劍召喚出來。換成其他人的話大概被逼近時才會發現,那時就難以防備吧。」庫里斯終於看清對手身後之物為何,是兩把近乎透明的小刀。他腦海中瞬間閃過千百個小刀的可能軌跡,左手已準備好發動魔法;「啊,在這裡開打沒關係嗎?」

「點到即止,一招決勝負吧。」「好!」

一陣使人目眩的強烈白光透過辦公室窗戶迸發出來。如果不是週末沒人在學園的話這裡說不定會被當成魔法誤爆處理。

蓋伊一瞬間便來到庫里斯面前用匕首從下而上地劃過。在白光中只聽見鏘一聲兩刀交接的聲音,以及兩聲刀刃插在物體上的悶響。白光散去後只見兩人刀刃相交,但庫里斯的魔法劍幾乎被蓋伊的實體劍砍斷,那兩把空氣劍則在木地板和側面的牆上各留下一個洞。

「我已經把空氣劍催到最快,你是怎樣避開它們的?」蓋伊後退一步把匕首收回鞘中。

「我把那兩把劍都鎖定起來,這樣它們一動我就知道。其中一把飛得比較快,但又快得沒法一百八十度大轉彎,這樣我就猜這把的目標不是我而是我身後的空間。這樣另一把的目標肯定就在我身上了。我用了一個小把戲讓它改變方向--」庫里斯手上出現了一個水球。

「水?」

「確切地說是水製的鏡片,嗯~有點難解釋呢。你有看過光線在水中折射嗎?同樣的原理讓這把高速飛行的劍射進水裡,其方向就會產生偏折。這是我能想到對付高速物體最有效的方法了。」

蓋伊只能露出苦笑:「這種打法我從來沒聽過……只能說心服口服了。」

「你的刀法也不賴嘛。魔法推動加上你的力量疊加起來非常可怕,我還是第一次看見魔法劍一個交手就差點被砍斷呢。」

「差一點就是差一點,在冒險時自信一擊沒造成傷害的話自己就危險囉。」

「因為你是由下而上的砍過來,如果沒砍中的話你就會借勢後退了吧。」

「那是當然。這種程度的攻防對我們來說已經是反射反應,根本不值一提。」兩人相視一笑,商業互吹至此為止。

「嘛~既然公事談完了要不要一起去吃個飯?我請客,算是答謝你昨天幫我解圍。」

「好啊,我也差不多餓了。」

「想吃甚麼呢?」

「我想吃烤肉跟喝酒。」

「中午也吃烤肉?!?」

「中午吃烤肉很奇怪嗎?別忘了我以前也是冒險者,大口吃肉不是很正常嗎。」

「也對啦。嗯……我知道城北有一家用碳爐烤肉好像風評不錯,要不要試試看?」

「那還等甚麼,快點去吧!」

*

以下為雜談時間。

- 關於那個宮庭魔法師作為一個組織的定位看上去有點像大雜燴(事實上的確也是,就看你能認出多少現實中的參照了),但是我覺得這是合理的。主要平時對他們沒有很大需求但有必要把他們捆在王室身邊,同時養這群人的成本很高,要以外面的公價讓他們全職工作根本不切實際。

這個系統主要把頭銜的價值盡可能的拉上去增加吸引力,而實際的俸祿不一定比外面的多。虛職更像是一種認證讓他們在外面自己養活自己,所謂對王室的忠誠除了少數緊急事態外根本不需要用到他們。正如現實世界中大英的樞密院幾乎從不開全體會議,幾天前那次是個稀有的例外。

實職的宮庭魔法師才是這個組織的核心部分。他們需要定期與王室見面,部分也會列席軍政會議之上。國防與王都安全的問題也跟他們有關,尤其後者是宮庭魔法師與近衛騎士團合作的部分。部分人會直接被予以文官體系的職位以方便他們執行職務。

- 有人會提議宮庭魔法師應該改成六年試用期,通過試用期則成為終身職的玩法--這個太硬核了吧!在這裡宮庭魔法師原則上就是終身職,但隨年紀和資增長實職裡面各人所擔任的職務可能會有所改變,退休者則會被移到虛職那邊。

- 其實折射率也可以透過增壓來達成,其效果可能比水還要好,那為甚麼擅長風魔法的人會用水球製造折射呢?其實變水球出來是個三歲小孩都會的小把戲,比壓縮空氣簡單多了。如果沒辦法確認飛刀的位置的話,改成用水牆也相對容易一點。這讓我想起今年台灣分科試物理科那道題:把一塊長方體的玻璃磚在平面上,透過玻璃磚觀察平面被折射偏移的差距是多少呢?當然還有一個考量就是飛刀不比光線,飛刀是有重量的。要改變其方向用較重的水球也比較穩妥。

還有一個更簡單的問題:為甚麼不乾脆打掉或者用盾之類的硬物使其折射呢?其實也並非不可以,但要直接打掉時機上不好掌握。當時庫里斯專注在與蓋伊的正面交鋒上,空氣刀的處理應該以簡便為主。以盾的話可能可能有穿透的風險,那還不如以柔剋剛。可以肯定的是,這些不是臨時想出來,而是在不停的戰鬥中累積經驗而成。

- 最近日圓太便宜讓我染上一直發委託的壞習慣,同時也因為匯價問題我快捨棄其他港台平台了……等以後有機會我會試試可以刷卡的clibo吧。

- 啊……好想吃碳爐烤肉/內臟啊。

上面白夢しらみ老師的作品應該是最滿意之一了吧。他很好地複製了他畫綾人/其他原神角的風格,即透過某一色調的背景襯托角色的性格/隱藏屬性。這樣即使不是完整的一枚繪其完成度也比單純畫角色高得多了。這張到現在都是我手機鎖定畫面的背景呢。

然後因為存貨太多所以在頁尾再多貼一張好了,雖然還沒貼出來的其實在網絡上已經不難找到就是。

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

Monday, 12 September 2022

11/9/2022: HM/PS/¥

女王駕崩了。

她一生其卓越的成就與優雅的品格已不用我再花費氣力描述。單說一點,她拼盡最後一後氣接見新首相及以蘇格蘭城堡作為去世之所正是她貫徹她八十年前所許下終生服務之約的體現。要用一首歌去概括的話應該就是時代巨輪

//常期望安定 還期望即興
無崖地唱唱唱唱我恐怕畢竟這是我的宿命
無能力修正 無能力嗌嗌嗌嗌嗌停
一開始誕下已經蒼老
一開始拍翼已追不到
當骨牌瀉下已知道
天天迫我上路 天天迫我進步
難避免捲入時代太恐怖//

看了一整晚下著微雨的白金漢宮與後面露出來的雙彩虹,我忽然想起岩田聰去世時任天堂在京都的總部也出現了一道彩虹。兩人當然不能相提並論,但他們的境況又頗為相似。他們都接過一個搖搖欲墮的帝國,前者穩住了帝國的衰落,後者則帶領公司再創高峰。他們的離世絕對是世界的損失,不過人在其位總是受到太多限制沒法隨心所欲地行事,那就讓他們好好安息吧。

提到老任,最近老對手索尼PS5的表現真的差到讓人發笑。飢餓行銷了兩年完全沒有效果,面對微軟的金錢攻勢毫無還手之力,最近居然還「因為匯價問題」加價。他們忘了自己在1995年的E3上面是怎樣打敗SEGA起家的嗎?如果忘了那我幫你們重溫一次。第三方出走、獨佔無力(看看那廢到笑的10/10)、看不起日系市場被反噬、機體連賣都賣的不暢順,真的只是奇數代的錯嗎?我看PS6就是索尼的Dreamcast,呵。

再換一個話題,日元上星期又破底了。從130開始就有人說差不多到底,但上星期都145了。日本的新聞頻道幾乎每破1塊就要出一次新聞,但那些官員似乎還在慢悠悠的開會。我看過有拿1997-98走勢出來拼圖的,就是還沒看到有人拿1985-1991的出來拼--開玩笑。145大概還沒見底,但肯定不會到二三百的啦。再不濟過兩個月香港人就要拿著大把大把的日元過來消費了。我還沒計劃要不要過去,不過我這兩個月在skeb已經發十幾個委託了。

每次日元出事我都會想起<<C:金錢控制>>這部我不厭其煩地提到的神作。現在回想一下,如果這番除了金錢供應以外也強調利率的話那種金融味道就不會只流於術語上了。利率算是眾多招式裡面最容易解的通的名詞了,反正女主的招式也是inflation,對吧?現在日本真的該頭痛要不要守住他們的零利率了。

最後向女王致敬再點一首歌吧:

//這個漂亮朋友道別亦漂亮 夜夜電視螢幕繼續舊形象
到了那日同慶個個要鼓掌 硬幣上那尊容變烈士銅像...//

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

夢.十夜 (X5) City of Dreams

冬天某日的湖邊小鎮。

對於這個冬季雨量來不少的地區來說,這個時節訪問小鎮並非最佳選擇。然而乘著疫情解封的浪潮,這裡終於久違地迎來了滿滿的旅客。白天他們各自進行不同的活動,晚上他們則聚在以湖邊的商店街附近,在餐廳或酒吧裡享受快樂時光。

也許是疫情的緣故,餐廳的數量對於這波旅客來說有些捉襟見肘。小鎮裡似乎只剩下高檔餐廳與外賣等級的快餐店。一些旅客就只能提早到四五點進餐,再找不到位子的也只能去快餐店買點炸雞或者炸魚薯條回酒店吃了。那些在其他城市裡不怎樣的餐廳,在這裡的分店居然是輪候名單最長一的一家。不過除了那些花錢的食客以外又有誰能評價這頓飯值不值呢?

湖邊一面塞滿了各種餐廳,有些餐廳把暖爐搬到外面讓人靠著湖喝酒吃飯,有些則直接把船開到水上變成水上餐廳--可惜,這裡是找不到避風塘炒蟹的。

湖邊的另一面是紀念兩次大戰的花園,與另一邊相反幾乎完全沒有開發過。這邊唯一的建築是一座歷史悠久的莊園,現在則被改裝成酒店。因為其湖景與寧靜兼具的特性加上莊園後來改裝成酒店的品味,這家酒店成為小鎮的頂級住處,沒有之一。

酒店套房一個面向著湖房間裡,窗戶稍稍打開讓冬日的冷風中和一下壁爐散發出來的熱力。一對少年少女正坐在沙發上。他們手上拿著的不是紅酒,而是一杯雪糕。

這家又做巧克力又做雪糕的小店已經成了小鎮的招牌。幾乎每個人都會在這裡買些巧克力回去當伴手禮,在這裡吃雪糕也成為指定的行程。在湖邊的麻雀和鴨子同樣愛吃這家店的雪糕。據說十年前小鎮上還有另一家連鎖雪糕店,但那些動物都只會挑本地雪糕店的雪糕來吃。

雪糕店就開在湖邊餐廳區域最接近公園的街角,從酒店房間裡把頭伸出去就能看到。不過正如某雪糕連鎖店所開的酒店有送雪糕上門的服務一樣,少年少女想吃雪糕的話打個電話自然有人會把雪糕送上來。

少年的雪糕筒上蓋了整整兩個球,下面是香濃的招牌黑巧克力口味,上面則是順滑的咖啡忌廉口味。與現在流行將整塊食材放進雪糕的風潮不同,這家雪糕店的雪糕就只是一個個純色的雪糕球而已,只有像少年一樣嚐過的人才會知道那種在外吃遍各種手工雪糕後還是想回來吃上一杯的感覺。

雪糕在熱力下慢慢溶化,已經快要滴到他的手上了。他只好趕快又吸又舔的把上面的雪糕球先吃掉。少女的吃相則優雅多了,她在慢慢地享用手上的馬斯卡彭莓果雪糕。

雖說公園這邊沒有餐廳,但這不妨礙旅客們拿著酒杯跑過來享受氣氛,這正好讓一些街頭藝人有了發揮的空間。一位奏者正拉著手風琴,曲目換了一首又一首。有些是古典曲目,有些則是應觀眾要求即興演奏。從歡樂頌到三套車到波希米亞狂想曲似乎都難不倒奏者。在匈牙利舞曲後他又換了一首風格完全不同的舞曲,對其他路人來說可能又是不知哪來的名曲,在樓上聽到的少年少女卻是虎軀一震。

Christmas in the 13th month。

雖然名字這樣叫,樂曲卻是為萬聖舞會而寫的輕快舞曲。雖然現在不是十二月也不是萬聖節,二人對這首樂曲卻有莫名的親切感。

「仙境傳說啊……」樂曲完結,樓下傳來的掌聲似乎比前幾首稀少。少年有感而發問道:「如果讓你點的話下一首會是甚麼呢?」

「我想……應該是楓之谷夢之都那首BGM吧。跟Christmas in the 13th month一樣是輕快舞曲,也是SoundTemp他家用古典樂器最純正的一首了。而且你不覺得,這裡跟夢之都有點像嗎?」

「一座以吃喝玩樂為主的小鎮,這樣比的確是有點像。跟上次我們過來相比,這次旅客的人數變多了,公園邊上的小市集也更具規模。到了晚上這種嘉年華般的氣氛配這兩首再適合不過了。」

「不過很奇怪啊,這種地方不是夏天才多人來的嗎?現在可是一年最冷的時候,這幾天天氣很差又下雨又刮風,真佩服那些在外面喝酒的人,換成我早就縮回酒店裡去了。」

「要我來說的話下雨才好呢。那些半山的建築地盤和市中心的街道重整把沙子弄得到處都是,風一吹起來直接就變成沙塵暴了……剛剛我們出去吃飯時剛下過雨空氣清新多了。」

「這樣說我們上次來的時候這個小鎮的風景加上這次的人潮和氧氛,這樣比較像夢之都囉?」

「……」少女嗯了一聲不再說話,專心舔著自己的雪糕。奏者大概知道演奏點普通的東西才能吸引一般人,於是演奏起韋華第的四季.冬起來。其優雅的旋律與天候正好相襯,就是不清楚樓下的觀眾有沒有意識到這一點。

「明天和後天的空中觀光行程因為天氣取消了。妳有甚麼地方想去的嗎?」

「這是你應該要想的事情吧。」

小鎮並非只有街區裡面的娛樂,這樣顯然不足以讓它成為旅遊熱點。小鎮依山靠水,前者提供了各種登山觀光的行程,同時也是玩滑翔傘的熱點:後者更不用說,無論是普通的乘船觀光還是更剌激的水上活動一應俱全。但少年知道她對這些大量消耗體力的玩意沒有興趣。

「要不我們坐車到處觀光吧?飛機的確因為天氣問題飛不了,但我看過我們的目的地那邊天氣還可以,坐車就能到就是坐四五個小時長了一點--」小鎮同時也是更偏遠區域的樞紐,街上的旅行社不少都做這種即日來回的旅行團。可是這種要早上六點半起行,光坐車就要花上九到十個小時的玩法也不在少女的考慮之中,為此他才特地改為使用小型飛機來回。現在再次提出這個建議的他,才說到一半看到少女把頭歪向一邊就知道這樣也行不通。

不攀山涉水、沒法坐飛機、不想坐長途車、在小鎮裡刮風下雨也有可能吃到滿嘴沙塵。想來想去似乎只有縮在酒店裡這個選擇,但一條他預訂酒店時他沒特別留意的訊息突然閃過。

「你知道嗎?這家酒店用星鏈上網。」他想展露一個胸有成竹的微笑,但還在跟雪糕奮鬥的他還不能這樣做。雪糕筒以上的雪糕已經被他光速吃掉,只剩卡在裡面黑巧克力雪糕--想要優雅的把雪糕吃完還有最後一道關卡,那就是溶到底部的雪糕。吃太快的話一口下去它們可能會噴出來,吃太慢的話雪糕筒則可能化掉。少年的做法是把一整塊雪糕直接吸起來吞到嘴裡,這樣就能確定裡面有多少溶掉的雪糕了。

「……所以呢?」

「以前都說人在外地想玩那些網遊不管是正版還是私服延遲都大到不得了。現在有星鏈上網應該就能暢玩那些遊戲了吧?」

少女把最後一塊雪糕放進嘴裡又仔細品味好一陣子後終於回了兩個字:「……也好。」

「嗯~那妳想玩點甚麼呢?要不玩玩楓之谷?剛才樓下的演奏讓我回去夢之都再推一次露希妲了,雖然只有我們兩個有點困難……或者彩虹冒險?延遲大其實打打MMORPG還行,打彩虹冒險這種動作遊戲還是需要完善的網絡呢。還是--」

「「古龍同萌傳。」」兩人異口同聲地說出了這個遊戲,隨即相視而笑。

「彩虹冒險是好,但私服要從白板備開始打上去就太沒趣了。畢竟時間有限,當然要玩有現成帳戶的遊戲呢。」少女俐落地打開電腦並啟動古龍同萌傳Online,這台年齡不到三歲的電腦裡其實早就裝好了這個古老的網遊。

順利登入遊戲,映入眼簾的是在市集區域的兩人。少年身穿粉紅色睡衣套裝騎著九尾金狐坐騎,少女則是粉藍色睡衣套裝配九尾白狐坐騎,這正是當年轟動一時的七夕活動獎品。他們正處於市集擺檔的區域,但是坐下來叫賣的玩家遠沒有以前多,他們才得以快速找到自己的身影。

一群玩家正好經過發現了他們與他們身上奇特的裝束而停下來打招呼:「嗨~想問一下你們這身紙娃娃哪來的呀?我在這邊這麼多年都沒看過。」

少女回應道:「七夕活動拿到的。」少年趁這個空檔瘋狂圍著少女的角色繞圈圈。

「七夕活動?我都不知道這遊戲有七夕活動,是那一年的?」

「二零零四年啊。」

「靠!」「這是遊戲剛開沒久的時候吧!」「你們玩的時候我還沒出生呢!」「遠古玩家回鍋!」驚呼聲此起彼落,還有人使用全頻喊話:「我們在成都市集看到睡衣情侶紙娃娃裝想問還有其他人有嗎?請私我收一套」云云。

「所以你們幾等和屬於哪個公會的,要不要跟我們跑副本?我們正好缺二。」領頭人繼續問道。

「我們都是109等,公會是殘楓……有沒有聽過?」

「啊……沒聽過……」那是當然,這個公會早就被代理商弄沒了。「不過你們的戰力應該很夠了,現在有空的話來跑副本吧。」

「「好啊!」」

*

時隔十幾年一上來就跑團的後果很慘。

他們所跑的副本等級是95等。他們那些95等、100等的玩家在這個副本裡也沒太大問題,但109等的少年少女卻幾度差點被殺掉。作為近戰輸出的少年砍在王上面不斷發出叮叮噹噹般不痛不癢的聲響;少女的遠程砲火雖然對王造成確實的傷害,卻因為不熟王的攻擊習性偶而被掃成重傷。還好他們那團人也並非毫無辦法:他們把少年調往分擔火力的位置,在坦的同時專注於施加負面效果;少女則在連番提點後逐漸掌握到避開重擊的方法,成了隊伍中重要的火力擔當。

為甚麼少年少女空有等級優勢而難以發揮呢?很簡單--大人,時代變了。

遊戲隨著更新不斷讓戰力慢慢漲上去,新的系統只會一直增加;新的招式、新的合成系統、新的裝備……即使這是一個緩慢的過程,十幾年足以讓戰力形成代差。相對地,新推出來的副本的預設等級也是現代戰力為前提的。誰會拿著十幾年前的過氣裝備去推新副本啊?

幸運的是少年少女可能沒有現代的裝備,但他們的帳號裡卻不缺錢。快速地把裝備補起來以後,把最新的技能配搭學會只是幾下點擊的事情。少年少女跟著他們又跑了一個副本,這次就順利多了。

少女看著還在跟他們聊天的少年,腦海忽然閃過很多以前玩古龍同萌傳的點滴。少年問她想玩甚麼時她本來想說跟你一起玩甚麼都可以,但真正玩下去她才發現這個古早遊戲才真正是她與他的開始。

跑兩個副本用了他們快三個小時,湖邊吃飯的人早已歸家,奏者也已經消失不見。外面的天氣依舊不怎麼樣,明天不坐車到處觀光的話可能真的只能縮在酒店裡了。不過對於在酒店裡有甚麼可以做,她有了打遊戲以外的想法……

***

真的,我聽到有人在演奏Christmas in the 13th month。這是我第一次在街上聽到如此小眾的遊戲音樂。是一位拉手風琴的大叔。以他的年紀來說有玩RO並不意外,但是這邊在RO盛行的年代的上網設備好像……呃……不太好……

如果不是我當時趕著去預約了的餐廳的話我應該會停下來聽完一整首然後問他是從甚麼地方聽到這首樂曲的,太可惜了。

與之相比夢之都拉契爾恩(Lacheln the Illusion City)當然要由管弦樂團演奏才有效果,那些背景的敲擊樂更能帶出那種嘉年華的感覺。這首也是楓之谷音樂會的定番,網上已經有幾個現成的版本,有興趣可以去聽聽看,比如這個版本又或者這個版本

在外面這個世界戰爭瀕發、經濟衰退、百物騰貴,誰不想進入夢之都睡上一覺最好永遠醒不過來呢?大概正是因為大家都這樣想,這個旅遊小鎮才會莫名奇妙地在擠冬天擠滿人吧。可惜這趟旅程距離夢幻還是差了不少:廉價旅館倒光使得酒店房價整體大漲、餐廳變少以致難以預訂、地盤導致的沙塵暴等等。尤其是最後一點--這些新的房屋酒店的確可以使小鎮容納更多遊客,但小鎮還會是以前的小鎮嗎?

說到旅遊城市,日本甚麼時候要完全對外開放啊啊啊……

Saturday, 27 August 2022

Back to South Island in 2022 (3): Christchurch & Akaora


Along the way from Tekapo to Fairlie, the snow got heavier as we ascended the mountain. That reminded me how I got the idea mapping Babylonia in Osu! with the first snow in 2012, maybe one also generates idea from such snow storm...? 

This is...New Zealand.

Truth be told it's very tiring to sit in a car for multiple hours though. When we though the road closure was off and drive to the stateway they closed the road again due to heavy snow. At least we were allow to go after another 1 hour or so, but that means we will be in the car for almost 5 hours before reaching our destination.

Christchurch.

I still remember the days when I got awoke by quakes. Christchurch was a broken city back then, with functionality of CBD largely moved to suburbs. When I come back again few years later nothing much had changed: the city is still to be rebuilt especially the cathedral, and the city centre somehow became an area of art exhibition. 

This is no more when we came in 2022. The rebuilt is largely done and what was a ruined field in 2011 is now a brand new commercial area. You will find buildings with big accounting company names on it just like what you can find at Britomart Auckland. The tram is still running, but riding on a tram travelling through these commercial buildings is just like trams in any other big cities. Even worse, the commercial area here feels strange because there weren't many people around, inside buildings or on the streets. 


I can understand city centre being the most valuable piece of land for a city that commercial development would be nice, but it simply doesn't feel like Christchurch and to me it would be much better to fit more suitable elements -- historical marks or botanical stuffs -- in order to distinguish itself from others. I walked through city centre and I couldn't really find any attractions other than the park and the museum. Not even the Cathedral junction would I consider that as an attraction: it's not when you don't see trams passing there in 20 minutes and people aren't gathering at the shops along the tramline!


So what else can we do for another free day in Christchurch? It's always the two options: Lyttleton or Akaora, and the choice is pretty clear here.

We took the same connection bus to Akaora just as in 2014, but we didn't see any bus coming. Instead a minivan picked us up along with a driver and 4 passengers on board. It must be hard for them to strive with virtually no travelers coming. The driver even said she has another job during our free time!

Akaora is amazing as usual. Some may say that it's just another coastal vacation town even with the French influence (which is nowhere to be observed nowadays), you immediately feel the difference when you come. 


It's seaside versus lakefront.

Everything is so different: the lighthouse, the sea breeze, the habitat, the way the haven is constructed -- they showed that this is a seaport, and a seaport that carries the history of early settlement in New Zealand.

Walking along the driveway, I have to say that this is the least changed place among places I visited this time. Things looked just like 2014, or 1980, or perhaps earlier...with other tourist towns fiercely developing amid the covid, why are changes so rare here?

Is it because people are not visiting here anymore? When we walked along the driveway we only meet one or two people every few minutes. The restaurant was so empty that it only served 8 people including us during lunchtime but the same restaurant was so full that we couldn't walk-in last time in 2014. It is so hard so explain why Queenstown is full of visitors just as before while Akaora took a big hit...

As a transient traveler there wasn't much for me to do though, we had a nice meal, bought some nice fudges, took another walk on the other side of the driveway and called it a day.


There is just one thing that I missed: I showed the picture of a pebble beach to the driver and ask if she could take us there which should be somewhere between Christchurch and Akaora. There driver unfortunately said that she couldn't recognize where that was so she couldn't bring us there.

That is the Birdling's Flat.

Taken in 2014 as in my past diary.

The bays along the way to Akaora looks more like a sound with hills on both sides of the bay. Birdling's Flat distinguishes itself from other bays just does the opposite of that. It's long and flat coastal line means that you can see a coastline extending to infinity, facing the Pacific right away with just blue sea and pebbles in sight.

The flat stands as one of my top rated scenic spot among all my trip in the South Island, so it's such a pity that we missed that.


50 Bistro in The George serves some good food. The hotel is so nice and meets its high standard!

Ma Maison's affogato in Akaora. This is affogato of a bistro/café, but I have no idea what the blueberry sauce was for.

*

After all the bad weather we encountered in Queenstown and Tekapo, Christchurch serves as a nice and relaxing conclusion to our trip.

We missed so many things: originally I wanted to book a 5 day trip which also includes trip to the west coast like Greymouth then the Tranzalpine, but then the travel company doesn't run that anymore; we had both flight cruise cancelled; we couldn't stay overnight in Hermitage as it was fully booked; and we missed Mt John summit and the Birdling's Flat. On the other hand we also have some wonderful encounters, especially in Tekapo where we had the snow and had the couple that generously brought us out there.

This is the nature of travelling when what wasn't expected often become the most treasured part of your trip. I am sure I will remember this 2022 trip for a long time, just like the 2014 one.

Sunday, 21 August 2022

Back to South Island in 2022 (2): Tekapo





Tekapo, home of the Church of the Good Shepherds and the Mt John Observatory, the place where you can experience NZ lakes and mountains within walking distance from a single village.

To me Tekapo means much more in trips to South Island. It's where me and my friends without GPS somehow used an abandoned tramping track along the lake to reach Astro café in 3 hours. It's where Kohan restaurant serves somewhat rare quality Japanese food in such small town. It's where I first tried affogato with liquor (in the good way).

This is where I have had so many good memories with. And naturally I have high expectation when I plan to visit there again. Again due to restriction in public transport I will only stay there for a single night. Ideally we would have arrived there at 12, a quick check-in and we should be able to reach Mt John summit at 2 and we can have a nice lunch there. 

Ideal plan stayed in the ideal plane and of course you won't expect that after the cancellation of the flight cruises and that you were already experiencing bad weather in Queenstown.

It was raining when we board the bus at 8. As if the cloud was chasing us, rain stops gradually as the bus progresses, but it started to rain again as soon as we stopped for breaks. The sky was full of grey clouds and stormy winds blowing when we took off at Tekapo. No rainfall yet, but we'd know we need to reach our hotel as soon as possible.

I was so confused when I got off the bus right in front of the supermarket which I had no idea where it was. I only realized that I lived at a hostel along the way to Mt John, so the only geography I knew about Tekapo is a straight road from the hostel to the main street. Everything else is new to me, including where I got dropped off this time. Of course it wasn't too tough for me to find the right direction with the help of GPS. The hotel I picked this time was a bit far away because I tried not to pick hotels with bad reputation in hygiene possibly due to the lack of staffs during covid.

The wind and rain just relentlessly grew stronger and stronger...and it finally turned into sleet then snow as the sky turned dark. We had no choice but to walk against the snow to the main street for some food. Kohan restaurant is closed due to extended renovation -- who knows if it's just an excuse not to open in winter? But we also found another familiar face, Ramen Tekapo -- I remember the "Thai and Japanese restaurant" board in the past but I wasn't so sure if it had the name ramen -- which is always a perfect choice in harsh winter. Ramen quality is basically what you would find in non-Asian countries, but their spicy miso ramen is more of a Thai spiciness than Japanese ones that you need to be careful.

Snow didn't stop when we return to the hotel, and it didn't stop overnight either. Just as in Nagano we woke up and found everything covered by think snow. 

Such experience is not something that you can easily ask for. I went to the same hot spring hotel in Nagano twice in winter twice, first with my friend then later with my family. The first time we were able to observe a green backyard in the first day then a white one in the next day. The second time nothing really happened that night. The staff told us that we visited on the coldest day of the year...but snow simply didn't arrive that night. 

Given how precious the snow could be, it is not the time to murmur about missing the chance to visit Astro café again. Instead it's time to explore the world covered by snow!







Lake and the Church, 2022 vs 2014.

At the end of the day we still need to think about realistic problems though...with heavy snow in particular the two passes that goes in and out of Tekapo, roads were closed and the bus was cancelled. We were very grateful that a couple also going to Christchurch were willing to take us there. Thanks a lot!

The sign of Tekapo changing has been apparent when I came last time, with constructions along the lake started as early as 2015. However the main street remained largely the same -- the shops, the restaurants and the views. This is what I concluded after reviewing old photos on google maps which overruled my incomplete memories.

I mentioned that it is not the most regrettable to not being able to visit Milford Sound and Mt Cook, but not being able to visit the summit of Mt John. However the snow had compensated it all. This is another piece of wonder added to my Tekapo collection.

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Past entries on my 2014 and 2022 trips


Monday, 15 August 2022

Back to South Island in 2022 (1): Queenstown


It has been 8 years since I last made a long visit to the South Island. You can find my dairies about my 2014 trip here:


I have long wanted to do that again but was blocked from doing so even before 2020 then we have covid...but now it's finally time to travel around. Things have definitely changed, but by how much?

In short, by a damn lot.

Since I have already wrote about those attractions before I want to concentrate on how I feel about the changes in these cities during the years. I hope you enjoy and perhaps will travel there some day :3.

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It is always the same amazing mountainous view when you stepped down the plane at the Queenstown airport. These mountains are probably the least altered and that gave me the wrong feeling that the trip will be just the same as the one I had in 2014, which is quickly proven wrong though.

Another thing that stayed ever the same is the popularity of Fergburger. Last time I ordered at dusk and had to bring the burgers all the way back to the hostel, only to found that the burgers had already cooled. This time the hotel was much closer and this is one of the best burger I have had in some time. 

The birds clearly enjoy the burgers so much.


Oh I almost forgot about the bakery on the side. When I went there last time I only tried their Danishes (which is delicious for sure), but I knew nothing about pies other than those frozen ones sold in supermarkets. This time with proper knowledge handmade pies became a must-order for me whenever I come across bakeries making those. Fergbaker is no exception. They make really good pastry and the fillings are more of a watery style. Their pork belly & apple really tastes like baked pork belly with apples that you make at home, and the sauce is just the same as the gravy you would get. I am sure some would love these pies just like pies served in some popular bakeries in Auckland, but it's just not my cup of tea. 

Here comes the first major difference that I encountered during the trip: Intercity buses are running much less frequently. In particular the Queenstown - Tekapo - Christchurch route no longer runs daily. The Mt Cook route is suspended as well. It has became much harder to arrange trips using public transport in 2022 than in 2014. 

As a result I had to stay in Queenstown for 3 nights and I have no access to Mt Cook using public transport. So what can I do if I still want to pay a visit to Mt Cook? That is by private tours either on the land or in the air. Unfortunately the weather is bad around the travel date together with the fact that YHA Mt Cook closed and no hotels were available for our dates (even for the best rooms in the Hermitage!), I had no choice but to book a single day round trip flight cruise instead. But even that was cancelled due to bad weather. This is not something we can control, but after talking with my friends, it was not the most unfortunate thing during the trip to be unable to take the Milford sound cruise or visiting Mt Cook but something else -- perhaps you should know the answer already, but it would be clear in my next entry.

Oh well, but you still need to get something to do in Queenstown right? Otherwise staying in the hotel for 3 nights doing nothing is just like staying in isolation facilities/MIQ...

We visited the city centre and took the gondola + luge in day 1, but day 2 and 3 were unplanned because we would have taken the flight cruise should the weather be fine. Day 2 was windy but not rainy so we still decided to go out, but we met a sandstorm.

Yes, sandstorm.

One almost wondered immediately where did the sand come from. It turns out that it's the reconstruction of the city plus the construction near the gondola that contributed all the sand, the latter is much higher than city centre so the sand easily rolled down the slope. 

We still managed to reach Patagonia, the holy grail of Queenstown. This is the  reason we miss here so much over the years despite not being interested in all the water activates or parachuting. They have relocated since we last visited but still somewhere at the lakefront -- this could be more of a food problem for the birds and the ducks, but the Saturday market proved that the animals have more options other than just gelato.


Patagonia is now much bigger with two stories. They are also serving choc-coated ice creams as well as other in-house sweets. We had some great time in the second floor enjoying their affogato/gelato while watching staffs making chocolate live as well as enjoying the amazing lake view. I always have a kink to affogato -- it reflects the quality of the gelato made, the coffee brewed and the personality of the shop all in little container. The affogato of Patagonia is very thick with vanilla ice cream standing out even with a  strongly bitter expresso shot. This is clearly an affogato from a gelato maker.

Patagonia sweets served as our lunch. We did some shopping, took a short break in the hotel and very soon it's dinner time. I realized that most restaurants here tried to do high-end dining and they were so full during our trip that walk-ins at 6:00pm were impossible. Very strange, considering Queenstown should also be a popular place for all kind of travelers. Also it's mid-winter right? Are you telling me that those travelers are all wealthy skiers?

At the end we had dinner in the hotel on day 1, but we managed to book two good restaurants (at 5pm) for the other two days. It is still regretful that we failed to book one of the top Japanese restaurant located here. The two restaurants that we visited were definitely good and their standard matches the price. 

Mango panna cotta. People seems to be frenzy about the word panna cotta but the real highlight is the pistachio candy.

Day 3 weather in Queenstown turned worse and without any surprise I received the call that the flight cruise to Milford sound was also cancelled. It was raining so heavily that we just stayed in the hotel for some relaxing time till dinner. We enjoyed some great seafood just below the casino, which reminded me that my friends liked the pasta ($10) served by the casino-owned restaurant when we came last time. I can't tell if that restaurant's still around, but Queenstown definitely need more of these middle-priced restaurants.

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Queenstown is undoubtedly the major travel city in New Zealand and it took a major hit during covid. Many backpacker hostel closed, leaving hotel rooms marked at extremely high prices with similar situation in the dining or shopping sector. The town kept developing to serve more high-end travelers with city renovation, building more tax free malls and luxury hotel/apartments. 

These developments were in line with the ministry's most recent controversial speech saying that NZ needs more "money carrying" travelers instead of backpackers. Is this the right future for Queenstown/NZ tourism? I can't tell. I enjoyed this city both in 2014 and in 2022, but perhaps it will be a different story in 2030.

The night of Queenstown, with someone playing Christmas in the 13th month in accordion.

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Thoughts on Three Hopes: a fast food game(?)

3 routes in 100 hours.


This is the third switch game that I played on screen via capture card and surprisingly all three are action games. It is almost miracalous that I didn't rage over the serious latency and even managed to clear the hidden boss in Neo TWEWY.

How is it possible to play games on a monitor with 300ms delay?

I got myself a new monitor this time and the difference is hell and heaven. Battles went much smoother...only then my Internet broke down that I have to fall back to pre-recording my gameplay videos which were then uploaded separately. You can find those videos here.

So how do I rate the game? Well in short, not exactly what I expected. This is the review from someone who had their first taste of the Warrior series.

It took me 47 hours to clear the Azure line on normal, then another 18 to clear Scarlet on hard. 35 hours on maddening, including many retries to S everything but I then realized 100% achievement is too hard for me so I stopped doing that at some point.

*spoiler below*

Plot

What did I expect in the demo review? Shez as a proxy on the opposite side of Sothis to find a solution between the two civilizations, and a solution between the three countries.

Is it the good end I have been looking for? Absolutely not. Does it make sense? Yes somehow. It turns out that Agarthans/Epimenedes/Arval is never supported by another alien entity that matches Sothis(at least Thinis didn't show up).

Without a matching opponent you won't expect the conflict to resolve without brutality. So either you killed Byleth (altogether with Sothis), or you recruited Byleth which could be a time bomb when Sothis threatened that she can takeover at anytime. 

On the other side, who can tell if in another thousand years the remanant at the underground would compose another plan of revenge? Even without central church and Rhea, anyone could well be the target as indicated from the shadow library as they hold the "blood of the beasts" regardless of the crests. Three Hopes basically made no attempt to iterate such conflict other than them being foes suddenly hop into the battlefield and become your final boss.

It is also kind of disappointing to see all three routes being extremely similar in structure both from the countries and the growth of Shez. The routes started with uprises in their respective countries (which coincidentally occurred at the same time), when things slowly get resolved they turn their eye into other countries or the church, and finally the TWSITD comes out as the final boss. The only difference is who's on your side and who's not (remember there are 4C2/2 = 3 ways to divide 4 items into 2 groups of 2). Dialogues are very similar if not identical (mainly those with Arval) and so as the plot which makes it in overall more repeated and less rich in content.

There are a hell lot that could potentially be covered should extra chapters be inserted. I would definitely love to see minimal developments in the academy. That would have slowed down the pace by a lot instead of "just joining the academy and the next moment you are on the battlefield". In a similar way chapters can be inserted along the solidification of the house leaders' power, and also at the end to discuss further the relation against TWSITD/the church (then again there was no church route here). 

Well I guess it's my expectation that is unrealistic in the first place...many details that I mentioned above were based on what we found in the shadow library which is DLC content after all. We didn't see super in-depth stories in Three Houses main routes either, but at least the routes in Three Houses explained the big pictures in full.

A smug and arrogant Byleth(/Sothis) is absolutely one of the things that shocked me the most.

Oh well.

While Three Hopes is so disappointing in its overall structure, I think IS did a great job writing stories around individual characters this time.

This time the story is not limited to the academy students (plus a few academy  staffs) anymore. We got the parents/relatives of the students and all the nobles of the countries. They were merely a random name mentioned in Three Houses, but here we can find loads of conversations between them and the students. From here it is much easier to hear from the  students talking beyond their academy/daily life. 

Most students got sections dedicated to themselves. They are no longer puppets under their respective House leaders. Instead they lead their own noble troops and act on behalf of their family interest. It is much easier to draw out their personality in that way. We thought Ferdinand is only someone who shout "von aegir" and Sylvain is a playboy, but in Three Houses their defend their countries like a true leader; we also observe interactions between students and their relatives like Hilda and his brother and Caspar/Felix and his father. All these arrangements allow us to understand the world in much different perspectives.

The Ashen wolves are no longer locked behind DLC and they join our troops for free. They are the characters that I liked to use the most because they are always recruitable unlike the other students (that you don't have to start from level 1 which is painful in higher difficulty -- how can you protect a lv15 Holst from enemies of lv120?). IS gave us a heavy dose of the wolves in the game. Though not appearing in main story conversations they get loads of paralogues not just only about the story of the wolves, but also with other students. It shows that the wolves are not just isolated weirdos, but students equally colorful as those in the other Houses.

And of course the lords. Even though the routes and outcomes are so similar, they clearly distinguished themselves from each other. The strong emperor Edelgard, the kind king Dimitri and the schemer Claude -- they really picked up their power and responsibility (cf. the Dimitri who wanted to kill the last one in Three Houses), and their characters are really well expressed.

If only they put more support conversations into the game...

Why do you do that IS...I want to use my lovely Sylvain in all three routes...

Mechanics

There are two main parts that composed the game, the overworld and the battles. Let us talk about the overworld first.

This is an adoption of Fire Emblem into the Warrior series, in particular mimicking Three Houses. It is easy to find many familiar systems from weapon ranks, classes to factilies are all heavy in Three Houses. 

They made a few changes from the Three Houses system like splitting training and activity points (plus the sucessive training system saves all the time to put characters into pairs), removing fishing (which took me 5+ hours in Three Houses no joking) and jotting down options that does not work in tea party (or else you check walkthroughs anyway). These are nice little adjustments to have.

The overworld map is also smaller this time. Loading the map is much faster than loading Garreg Mach. They distinguished different camp locations with flag colours and various backgrounds which is a nice little detail. Funny though the camp sometimes managed to have stone structures albeit being temporary(?).

Overworld netvigation now allows fast travel not only to locations but also to characters and functional NPCs. I also like the design of putting supply master at the bottom even it seems to be incidental (because it appears the last), but I indeed visit her the most and that saves time. 

Reducing repetitive overworld routines, fast nativigation plus (much) faster loading time really boosted gaming fluency. These are almost essential in an era where people always want to clear a game quick.

In terms of resource management Three Hopes is also quite close to Three Houses. You can barely upgrade the facilities to the max in the first playthrough if you gather every last bit of resource. There are quite some room for further upgrades via tactics instructor, levelling up or weapon forging but they are all locked behind a single currency -- gold. It eliminates further redundant currencies as all excessive materials in post-game can easily be exchanged into gold for these upgrades. 

The only game breaking non-NG+ mechanism is the meals (recall in Three Houses the effect of having meals is much more reasonable). Acclerating the warrior gauge really turns the game into spamming warrior specials. Also, Byleth mentioned in the support conversation that he/she does eat a lot. That explained how was it possible for him/her to have multiple meals with the students but now Shez is doing the same. (Another notable thing is that ingredients are quite rare in Three Houses but in Three Hopes you basically have 50 of each by doing nothing...)

Battles

Cutting opponents like weeds is definitely cool, but I found myself enjoying some characters/classes more than others.

The core idea is to aim accurately. It is quite hard to aim the opponents for some classes after some regular moves: pegasus in the air, cavalries after dashing, Yuri with his ring equipped...too much mobility is often a problem in actual fights. I found Yuri much easier to control without his ring actually, and I have to use specific combos for pegasus knights or cavalries to aim properly. For example Bow knights give an all round shooting with the combo XXXXXY which is far more better than the combo XXXXXXY, not only because the latter dashes which is so hard to use, the circling shot also breaks defense very efficiently.

Another consideration is attacking speed. While trying not to dodge (which slows you down and waste time) you always want to hit fast and break opponents' defense before they hit hard (which almost cost you the S rank in maddening). Dexterous classes are so much better in that sense. For example I found trickster much than mortal servants which swing their swords chop by chop. Gregmory is another class the casts so slow that I never thought of using those. Are they useless? Not really, just don't control them by yourself, they are doing well on their own.

The reason that you want to optimize your character so much is because your performance is almost solely decided by your technique instead of everything else including weapon ranks, skills, abilities, buffs...as long as you know how to fight and the weapon is minimally strengthened the maps are just as easy. This is hugely different from traditional Fire Emblem where resources are very carefully distributed and all the moves are catiously delivered.

Another problem with such design is that the difficulty curve becomes flat. Even at maddening, you don't find later chapters much harder than the earlier ones. In terms of one-on-one combats, dodging a soilder's attack is no different than doing the same against a swordmaster or mortal servant. The only difference is that you are in a much deeper trouble if you get hit by the later but as long as if you don't you will always be healthy, and this is quite easy to do so. In terms of general tactics early maps are as complex as the later ones, and reinforcements do not come more intensely in later maps anyway. This is a game of sweeping strongholds one by one...and it easily gets repetitive.

If we look at Dynasty Warriors, people are happy with the content even when the battles are more or less similar because those battles correspond to actual historic battles where contexts could be put into including who's appearing and saying what. You don't have that in Three Hopes. They tried to make some description to each of the auxiliary battles, but the contents are almost the same: sweeping bandits (or whatever opponents with no specific name) or battling beasts. It is very hard not to feel repetitive in that way. As I suggested above, expanding number of chapters would see such problem greatly repaired.

Artwork

Now you start to wonder after so bashing, how did the game ended with mostly positive feedback? Well, I have to say that the game looked very solid at the very least, and artwork is a crucial factor for that.

This is a job very well done.

They have updated the students' designs, and the designs fit them well at the age of around 19. The 3D models are so much better than those in Three Houses as you don't see pixels anymore. They also put a lot of effort in modelling each of the classes to make them look so different from each other. My favourite is of course trickers' finger gun when casting magic, especially when Yuri's wind magic actually one shots the armored units :)

Two comments on the design though: one is Shez's bright purple hair is a bit too unnatural -- I guess many have critized when the very first trailer came out already. Another is Dimitri's academy phase hairstyle in 3D...I guess it's easier to show here directly :/

The OST matches the high bar of that in Three Houses as well. My favourite is Melody of Clarity which is again the track for golder route final boss fight. Still I prefer the Three Houses ost just a slight tad more, perhaps just because how they mix the Fire Emblem melody into the credit song (A Star in the Morning Sky 2:40).

Rare to see Dimitri in academy phase but...

Conclusion

I can understand why the general reputation is so nice because it is inherited with what makes Three Houses success. It also delivered the other side of the game, the Warrior series properly. 

Many of my disappointment including mistreatment of stories, repetition and the lack of difficulty curve, occurring only from my second playthrough. Perhaps it is just my expectation that is unrealistic in the first place: the Warrior series is meant to be brainless chopping but not high precision action games, and the Three Houses story wasn't supposed to be that deep, with documents in the shadow library being no more than some teaser for those story maniacs.

In overall I had a mixed experience on the game...but others may have different opinions.