I need quests. Not only in my video games (god knows I love them in my video games) but also in what I’ll generously refer to as ‘real life’. Because I’m so rarely approached by mysterious travelers in dark clothing (come to tell me the fate of the entire world rests on my shoulders) I usually have to fall back on plan B: act as my own primary NPC. This I accomplish by setting my sights on a symbolic object, a piece of amazing and totally unnecessary loot which I decide to immediately seek out and acquire.
All of this to explain how I came to be in Paris—for my own wedding, no less—and totally consumed by a single idea: that of finding and purchasing a Playstation Vita. Sony’s portable console was to be the solution to all my woes (main woe: not having my Playstation 4 with me. Secondary woe: feeling incredibly overwhelmed by the fact that I was getting married). As some of you may know, I recently had a one night stand with a 3DS, but, finding its pixels too old-fashioned and its 3D headache-inducing, I quickly returned the console to my local Target, citing ‘creative differences’ as the reason for our amicable split. (I still love you, Nintendo. Please visit me in the night and show me your NX.)
My quest for the Vita, however, came with a quite specific set of parameters. Not any old Holy Grail would do. Only the first-generation (dubbed Playstation Vita 1000) would allow me to turn in the quest and gather my hard-earned XP. Why, you ask? Well because of the holy shine of its OLED screen of course, a screen replaced in the second generation Vita by a dinkydoodle LCD display (described by my fellow nerds as ‘kinda washed out’ and ‘totally crappy’). This is the kind of inside information that always makes questing enjoyable for me. It gives me the impression that I’m a connaisseur of sorts.
I first checked a handful of Micromanias near me (the French version of Gamestop, owned by the same parent company.) The best I could find was a heavily scratched version of the console, which I summarily refused to buy. No concessions would be made. My Holy Grail would gleam with the light of a thousand suns and a thousand more moons. Finally, after asking a couple of NPC’s to dial other retail locations, I found a totally OK Playstation Vita at the Micromania in La Defense, an area known for its Star-Wars-style behemoth of an arch and the adjacent giant mall populated mostly by teenager NPC’s attempting to mate while absent-mindedly sipping cola.
By this point my future wife had long-since abandoned me, claiming that La Defense was ‘too far’, and ‘a symptom of my mental illness.’ She had over the years grown tolerant of my ways, and knew that I used video games and technology as a coping mechanism during times of great emotional upheaval. Plus, she had a couple of things to take care of in central Paris anyways. As I entered the mall, I realized this was my version of a bachelor party. Hanging out in a video game store listening to a twelve year old beg his mother for the latest Call of Duty DLC as she storms around screaming ‘what the fuck is a DLC?’ (in French of course.) Perusing games near a paraplegic girl draped in the American flag, a girl who had come directly from the Captain America premiere and was a source of great comfort and perhaps even proof that my life was on the Right Path. That night I slept with the Vita charging near our soon-to-be marital bed, its corner button emanating the same type of glowing safety that nightlights used to provide when I was a child (scared of the dark due to my early ingestion of multiple Stephen King novels). I felt satisfied despite the fact that I had neither games nor a memory card to make the stupid thing work.
The memory card I acquired the next morning on Amazon (having heard that the 32gb version was a hard to find one): I would have to wait 3 days for the delivery. I thought of it as the purest of gifts for my beloved; a short delay in my playtime. The games were another matter altogether. I agreed to attend a (super awesome) expo at the Quai Branly dubbed ‘Persona: Strangely Human’ (no relation to the JRPG). It was all about ghosts, shamanism, spirits, the life of inanimate objects, artificial intelligence, and robotics. Quick sidenote, I highly recommend reading about the ‘Uncanny Valley’, a theory put forth by Japanese robotist Masahiro Moti about our ability to feel familiarity with a variety of humanoid inanimate objects (including corpses). In exchange for this non-sacrifice, my future wife agreed to accompany me to Rue Voltaire, a street known for its incredibly amount of video game, anime, and hobby stores. These were pretty mind-blowing, as few places like them still exist in the USA, let alone dozens of them lining a single street. There I found a not-for-resale promo copy of Borderlands 2 as well as a cheap physical copy of Soul Sacrifice.
Within the next couple of days, I had digitally purchased three more games on the Playstation Network. Here are my short reviews of them:
- Soul Sacrifice: I think this game is a good Monster Hunter clone, but it turns out I just don’t like the format. I wanted Diablo, but got a weird, over-the-shoulder camera with a small group of monsters and a lot of running around in circles. The basic premise: a talking book wants you to read about monster hunts that have already happened. Every time you read about a monster hunt, you get to play it. This is totally shitty for me, because I like to at least maintain an illusion of freedom, something this game immediately strips away from me. Also I think the book made me drink its blood tears. Verdict: probably a waste of money.
- God of War – Ghosts of Sparta: After doing a bit of research, I came to the conclusion that this PSP game was probably the best point of entry into this series I’d been avoiding due to my irrational fear of giant bro-dudes and their awful goatees. Seriously, Kratos is one strapless ballcap away from a date-rape. Again, I bought this game looking for Diablo, and this time I was more pleasantly surprised. Turns out God of War: Ghosts of Sparta is a fun action-adventure game with lots of slashing, smashing and whipping. I just wish there was more varied loot, a customizable main character, and a less shallow XP / leveling system with build customizations. I know, I know, I’m one-track minded. As I played it, I kept telling my future wife how cool the game was. Truth is I was just desperately hoping I would convince myself into developing an obsession. After a couple of hours I got the picture and lost interest in completing the game. Now I just found out it’s coming to Playstation Plus in May. Turns out I could have gotten it for free. Well fuck me. Verdict: I murdered my mother (in-game) and quit (probably forever.)
- Bastion: I’ll defer to Alfie on this one. I played it quite a bit, but I just can’t get over how flimsy the cartoonish, flash-era illustrations feel. I know many consider this game to be beautiful and engrossing. It just didn’t do it for me. Bastion is like a Wes Anderson film: too quirky to take seriously, and too smart to not think about. Verdict: I’m happy it was made. I’m happy I contributed to the developer. I have a feeling that Transistor (and Supergiant Games’ freshly PAX’d and looking-real-interesting Pyre) won’t do it for me either.
- Persona 4 Golden: Bought this because it is considered amazing by all the persons on earth. Plus it was on sale. Haven’t played it yet, for fear of death-by-kawaii. Will soon.
- Borderlands 2: Finally some decent drugs. When a fiend is so desperate he don’t know where to turn, he suddenly finds himself able to overlook cartoonish graphics, zany sidekicks with high-pitched voices, and a general aesthetic that probabably felt dated by the time Guy Ritchie put Madonna in a boat. I played this game before I got married. I played it after I got married. I just now played it some more on the plane. It’s a pretty good game. It’s also a real shitty port. Stutters a lot. Slows down plenty. Pretty bad for a console game that’s supposed to be optimized for a specific piece of hardware. They either ran out of time, money, or possibilities. Either way, the cross-save feature is going to allow me to play this on my Playstation 4 when I get back home, where a recently-on-sale-and-freshly-purchased Borderlands 2: The Handsome Collection is waiting to be downloaded. That means I’m willing to put up with this shitty port because it will eventually break free of its shit-coccoon and become a glorious PS4 butterfly on my television screen in Los Angeles.
Now that I own a Playstation Vita 1000 (you know, the one with the OLED screen?), 5 games, a carrying case, and a 32gb memory card, you might rightfully ask: so Julian, did you complete your quest? To which I would answer: sure I did. I got married to the person I love and made my 92-year-old grandmother weep. Do you even know how many experience points that is? Now if I could just find a perfectly rolled two-handed axe…