Final Fantasy Exvius Brave!

Steel bat? BRAVES ASSEMBLE!
Steel bat? BRAVES ASSEMBLE!

Final Fantasy Exvius Brave, a mobile chapter in Square-Enix’s immortal Final Fantasy series, came out about a month ago in the USA, and what it is is a nostalgic travel back through all the other games in the series, draped over the typically opaque and crystalline JRPG-style adventure.

The plot starts with noble knight Rain and his lesser status friend Lasswell coming across a strange creature trapped in an Earth crystal who warns them of a group of villains who plot to plunge the world into darkness and so on. It’s Final Fantasy — EVERY game reveals an existential threat.

It’s dangerous to go alone, though, and so you can summon heroes (and villains!) from other Final Fantasy games to help out. Some show up with more potential than others, though, so it’s up to you to assemble the greatest heroes from nearly a dozen universes to help you out.

And if THAT’S not enough, well, you can dive into your friend list and ask one of them to send over their best warrior to help you as well. You can invite people you know, but I just selected the most powerful people from the random list and sent them friend invites. When you have borrowed their character, you can see how perhaps a hero you haven’t yet summoned does in battle.

So many heroes...
So many heroes…

Which heroes you get from a summon is the luck of the draw. The game is pretty free with the rare summon tickets at the beginning of the game, to give you a chance to get someone powerful right off. (The serious players keep restarting until they manage to get a rare or two right from the start. I didn’t know about that when I started). Eventually those are used up. You can earn common summonses by sending and receiving gifts from friends. And of course, this being a mobile game, you can pay money for more tickets.

No matter how rare a summons, though, they start at level 1 and must be leveled up to match your party before they can be very useful. Once they get to their max level, they can sometimes be “Awoken”. Awakening increases their rarity by one star, grants new potential abilities, and resets their level to 1. There is a LOT of leveling of heroes in this game. Naturally, you can buy leveling items to speed up this process, though they often have events where you can earn leveling items (steel cactaurs) for free. They are having one this weekend, in fact.

These special dungeons are accessed via the “Vortex”, a portal into battles with specific aims. Experience (for all the grinding), getting materials for crafting or awakening, dungeons built solely to earn gil (in-game currency), and so on. There’s usually something going on. Most of the grinding vortices require Lapis, the RMT currency, to open. You earn a fair amount of Lapis doing plot missions and hitting certain achievements, but of course you can buy more if you run out. Again, it comes easily at the beginning of the game to get you used to using it, but is much scarcer later on.

So many choices...
So many choices…

Aside from battling — which is the main fun, admittedly — and grinding hero levels, you can also craft a variety of things. The Forge crafts gear; Synthesize crafts potions and other items; and Abilities crafts slottable skills that extend a hero’s powers. All these things require recipes and materials. Most recipes can be bought, but the best ones must be found or quested. Most materials drop from battles, but some must be hunted up. I’m not positive you can buy these for real money or Lapis, but I would not be surprised.

Every Final Fantasy game has some sort of way to summon legendary spirits to help out. In FFEB, they are called “Espers”. You get the Esper, Siren, for free. She has a very useful mass Sleep ability and does water damage. The other Espers, Ifrit, Titan, Ramuh and so on, must be discovered. Using Espers in battle earns skill points that may be spent to increase an Esper’s stats and powers (which they can pass along to their summoner). Feeding Espers certain “magicites” will level them up and increase their power.

There’s also a Coliseum that doesn’t take Energy (most battles have an Energy cost; Energy slowly replenishes with time, as is typical for these sorts of games. Of course, you can replenish Energy instantly for cash). Coliseum battles pit you against increasingly difficult encounters, and are an easy and free way to see how a new selection of heroes fit together. Coliseums use an even slower form of Energy…

Battle in FFEB is the typical rock-paper-scissors element scheme. An enemy’s color typically determines which elemental strength and weaknesses they have, if any. High defense creatures must have their defense broken down by your units. Attack must be broken. Statuses must be cured. The first few chapters of the story, you’ll be swapping heroes in and out and doing summonses with your fingers crossed hoping for the healer with just the right cures, or a melee that is really good at breaking things. Eventually you’ll settle on a few brave souls and go on to conquer.

Getting ready for battle.
Getting ready for battle.

For a mobile game, Final Fantasy Exvius Brave is surprisingly deep, and you can spend quite a long time playing each session before entirely exhausting Energy. (Questing, for instance, often is totally free but quite lucrative). The story is somewhat trite if you’ve ever played a Final Fantasy game before. The boss battles are suitably impressive and difficult, and it’s fun to draw your support characters from twenty years of Final Fantasy. Heck, I have the frickin CLOUD OF DARKNESS as my front line melee :)

Recommended for any Final Fantasy fan.

Soundtrack Attack!

Quartz Stylin'!
Quartz Stylin’!

Ugh. Has it been FOUR MONTHS since I last blogged? I suck. I really do. But I’m going to try and make up for it this month. This is the annual “Blaugust”, where game bloggers try to blog a lot. For me, blogging TWICE in a month would be some sort of record…. but we’ll see what happens.

For now, I’m gonna do a little reblogging from my posts on G+, and I hope to add some of the more current stuff I’ve been playing as things happen. This post is about one of my recent excursions into mobile gaming… and cartoons…

I know there’s other people I follow and perhaps follow me who are huge fans of Steven Universe. That’s the Cartoon Network cartoon about a group of sentient space rocks that emit illusory hard light bodies rebelling against the offworld Diamond Authority that almost destroyed the Earth five thousand years ago. The rebels, known as the Crystal Gems, won the Gem War and saved the planet for what remained of humanity. Steven Universe is a hybrid gem/human learning to take his mother’s place as the leader of the Crystal Gems.

You should totally watch it.

There’ve been a few Steven Universe-based games, but it took the one that as a rhythm game set to the wonderfully moving (and sometimes hilarious) songs that the show features to get me to play.

I almost lost to get this screen shot. ALMOST. LOST. STEVEN.
I almost lost to get this screen shot. ALMOST. LOST. STEVEN.

“Soundtrack Attack” is a rhythm game that would be familiar to any fan of Elite Beat Agents. You tap, slide, and hold down to the beat while your Gem (who you can create from the basic template for a Quartz, Pearl or Ruby gem warrior) runs from warp pad to warp pad evading the Homeworld Gem sent to retrieve your fleeing character.

You’ll have the Crystal Gems to help you make your way from Beach City through to the epic confrontation in the Kindergarten, that dead area where Homeworld was constructing new Gems from the life force that permeates the Earth.

Well, I say epic confrontation, but the game doesn’t actually give you an ending. It just… runs out of levels, and you get the achievement for finishing the game.

But nobody plays rhythm games for the plot. We play them for the music. All the SU hits are here; Strong in the Real Way, Giant Woman, Stronger Than You, Mr. Greg, that song Sadie sings, Steven and the Stevens, and as the penultimate song in the game, the entire extended opening from the “Minisode”. Which is a nice break before the punishing final song, the only one I had to really try hard on.

You get stars for finishing levels (up to three stars per level, seven levels per stage, six stages for 126 maximum possible stars). You earn Crystals by accurately hitting the beats in the song, and these may be used to buy new outfits for your Gem. They can also buy power-ups if a level is too hard, though for that punishing final level, I spent too much time trying to figure out when to use the power-up and did even WORSE when I used them. I finally managed to win three stars without using power-ups, after the fifth or so time.

I thought doing the entire game perfectly would get me that ending. But, it didn’t.

There’s nothing that requires you to spend real money. I don’t think there’s even a way to spend real money if you wanted to. However, after each stage, you get the option to double the crystals you earned by watching a 15 second commercial. After I watched commercials for a movie and another one for some candy a few times, CN was done with THAT obligation and for the remainder of the game, I only saw ads for Cartoon Network properties.

It’s a quick game, tuned for children so it is generally very forgiving. That final stage, though… if I had a way to save the game to Youtube, I’d show it. But I don’t. And there’s no handsoff replay of the level so I can’t really watch my Gem smoosh the enemies as I try to keep the beat.

Upshot; if you’re a Steven Universe fan and own a mobile device and like the songs, go for it.

If you’re not a Steven Universe fan, well, haven’t you ever wondered why the back of the one dollar bill has a diamond and a cut-apart snake? WAKE UP, SNEEPLE!

TIS-100 Sequence Indexer

Sequence Indexer program
Sequence Indexer program

It’s been long enough that I should go over what TIS-100 _IS_. TIS-100 is a programming puzzle game by the makers of SpaceChem (a previous obsession). Where SpaceChem kind of hid the programming knowledge necessary to solve the puzzles beneath a fun graphical abstraction, TIS-100 just strips away the candy coating. TIS-100 simulates a fictional multicore reduced instruction set computer (RISC). There is no RAM. Sometimes there is a stack or two. Each processor has just one directly-accessible register.

This is SUCH a niche game. Take your set of gamers. From that, select the ones that are programmers or who are interested in programming. From that, select the ones that have experience with assembly language, or are interested in programming at the chip level. From that, select the ones that love optimizing machine code. For a computer that doesn’t exist.

There is a very thin plot to TIS-100, exposed a fragment at a time in notes left by your crazy uncle, the uncle who left you this mystery computer after his tragic death. I’m just two segments from the end….

Segment 62711 – Sequence Indexer

  1. Sequences are zero terminated
  2. Read a sequence from IN.0
  3. Read index values from IN.X
  4. Look up index values in sequence
  5. Write indexed value to OUT

The processor diagram for this puzzle has two stack nodes with a processor node between them that provide a clue to the solution. The data will be read into the top stack, then we will build a node that moves data from one stack to the other until the correct value is on top of the bottom stack. Then the output node will read this value and… output it.

The first time I tried this puzzle, several months ago, I got stuck trying to limit the amount of data being moved from one stack to the other and I just got overwhelmed. This time, I got a basic solution running and then added the smarter stack management (that’s the node on the middle left).

I got as far as I could, fighting sleep. The automated analysis showed my solution was faster than most, but not fastest by a long shot. I found a much faster solution on the Internet. This better solution was roughly similar, but it included a fast path for when the index was the same as the previous index. It also moved the calculation of the necessary stack motion to the index input node. Mine is way over to the other side, and precious cycles are wasted getting it there. This other solution is the first place I have seen the Jump Relative Offset (JRO) instruction used.

Well, I bow to the better programmer, but I am happy with my solution :)

Next: A Sequence Sorter!

The Guild of Dungeoneering

Just sit right down and you'll hear a tale...
Just sit right down and you’ll hear a tale…

I’m usually a little wary of games that advertise the soundtrack as something you can buy separately. It’s just usually not going to be that memorable… but the songs that sing the tale of your triumphs or, more likely, your defeats, are so hilarious that it might just be worth it to be able to play one of them in a real life D&D adventure….

Like “Cardhunter” before it, Guild of Dungeoneering brings a paper-and-pencil roleplaying aesthetic to an overstuffed world of RPGs. But instead of controlling heroes exploring a dungeon, here you build a dungeon through which heroes (and I use the term loosely) search for loot, fame, and early graves.

Your Guild Hall
Your Guild Hall

You are the unseen architect of the Guild of Dungeoneering, a small affair out in the back country that hires itinerant heroes of various sorts to go sweep the floors, prune the garden, and defeat vile evil. As you expand the guild, you can attract various new kinds of adventurers. You’ll probably quickly want to find someone more experienced than the adventurer who just happened to be snoozing beneath a nearby bush when you built the first dungeon room. That’s just a “Chump”, a melee-based character with abilities balanced between defense (“cowering”) and offense (“slapping blindly with closed eyes”).

You’ll soon have “Bruisers” (defense-focused football hooligans), “Apprentices” (magical offense), “Cat burglars” (melee offense and cat-related puns), and “Mimes” (card and deck manipulation abilities) clamoring their way into the guild. Don’t get too attached to them, however. Because dungeons are harsh places.

A dungeon in play
A dungeon in play

Each time an adventurer enters a dungeon, they start from scratch — level 1, no gear. Before them are sketched a couple of dungeon rooms in a largely empty map. There usually is a boss to be defeated, or some number of mobs to kill. Your job, as the unseen architect, is to draw a hand of cards from the “Hope” (treasure), “Seek” (dungeon rooms), and “Dread” (monster) decks, and play those to build out the dungeon in such a way that the adventurer will reach max level and become fully geared before they attack the boss (or meet some other objective).

Gear is good. Gear adds cards to the “play” deck that complement your adventurer’s innate abilities, or shore up class weaknesses. Usually a dungeon will be more geared to a certain kind of play — magical defense, for instance. And you forgot to bring your Apprentice. The correct gear can let your adventurer live to see another day (unless it’s a Mime. Mimes don’t get to see another day).

Having played Seek, Dread, and Hope cards, it’s up to the adventurer to decide for themselves what their best path through the dungeon might be. Some go seeking high level monsters to kill. Some will cross the entire dungeon to get a piece of loot. Some will refuse to EVER confront the boss!

They aren’t stupid, you know. Not all the time, anyway.

Battle!
Battle!

When your adventurer finally does decide that maybe they will attempt to hit something today, out come the battle decks. These decks are, as I mentioned, comprised of cards given to your class and cards from gear. Here, our cat burglar has added some magical damage and defense to her normal melee offense. She is facing an Orc Warlord, who is a melee offense class with a side focus in getting the player to discard cards from her hand. That can leave the adventurer with very few options — more cards is more choice is more power when the battle decks come out.

The monster goes first (unless they play a card with the “quick” ability), and they typically have more health and better cards. (There are “blessings” you can research that allow the adventurer an advantage in the first couple of dungeon fights. Don’t waste the blessings. It is possible to die on the very first level 1 monster fight if you aren’t paying attention).

However, if you’ve gotten your adventurer to max level fast enough, and gotten the max level gear, and chosen gear that complements your character’s abilities and guards against the dungeon mobs’ focus, you just might have a chance. Win, and your adventurer may earn a battle scar that gives them an additional trait for future fights. Lose, and, well, it’s to the grave for the adventurer, and another “help wanted” sign gets posted down at the tavern. Maybe this death will help the next adventurer.

Guild Expansion screen
Guild Expansion screen

Guild of Dungeoneering is a surprisingly addictive game. The dungeon runs take about fifteen minutes to play through, as most of them have rules that limit the amount of time you can spend before the boss just decides he has waited long enough. The game is hilariously written, the songs maddeningly catchy, and the hapless adventurers eminently replaceable.

Each dungeon initially seems insurmountable. But after a couple of dead adventurers, it’s clear what sort of abilities would work best and which class would survive the longest. The Bruiser is a bit of a cheat, with their special ability to do damage while completely shutting down the opponent, but every class has their advantages, and the Bruiser has their fair share of deaths. Sometimes the cards just don’t work the way you want them to work.

I bought this game during Steam’s winter sale….