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So I now have over eighty hours logged in Fire Emblem: Awakening. Those are real hours spent really playing, unlike the over sixty that I have logged in Etrian Odyssey IV, a second 3DS JRPG I’ve been playing lately.
See, while FE:A is a tactical game where you see all your pieces on a gridded map and you move some of them around like a very complicated board game and slam them into other pieces and make them interact in various ways until you get rid of some of the pieces while making absolutely goddamn sure that you don’t get rid of any of the ones that you can move and maybe some of the others that you can’t, EO4 is a first-person dungeon crawler based on the very old Wizardry games.
The big deal about the EO series in general is that it’s in the same vein as the very old Western RPGs, which I don’t actually think have a snappy little acronym for them. T…there’s no such thing as a WRPG, is there? Man, fuck it, I don’t care enough to look it up. The point is, you start off in a town where everything is done using menus. You create characters from scratch; characters who have no personalities or stories provided to you by the game. You pick a name, a class, and a portrait, and you move the fuck on with your life. The game tries to trick you into thinking that you picked a gender, but you didn’t. You just picked a portrait that looked like a man or a woman. The game never actually calls the character by a gender-specific pronoun. At least, not that I ever noticed.
Once you make enough characters to feel satisfied with yourself, you can use money to buy items to either wear into battle or use in other ways, and eventually you can enter a map. You are not given a map. You are given a grid on the bottom half of the DS, and an arrow showing your location on the grid, and you goddamn well draw your own fucking map. Each game has improved upon the map-making tools you’re given; in the first game, you could only move about the grid in a very slow and clunky manner, and the icons you could drag and drop onto the map were pretty limited. By EO4, the map can be moved smoothly, and the various icons and colors you can use really let you map things out in the way that you think is best.
Since the dungeons are not randomly generated, maps can be found online. You’re a fool if you think that I don’t check those maps online and copy them down dutifully into my own game every time I enter a new area. This doesn’t mean I don’t add my own icons and notes (you can totally drop a note icon onto your map and write whatever you want there, so you can write shit like “wounded soldier” on a square where you found a pile of old books used for a fetch quest you haven’t taken on yet (I said you can map things out in the way that you think is best, not that you must map things out in the best way)).
Here’s the best (worst) part, though: you can add arrows to your map that your party will automatically follow if you turn on an auto-pilot mode. In theory, this helps you to cut down on time spent dicking around returning to lower levels when you return to town and come back. In practice, this allows me, the guy who has played this game for over sixty hours so far and is only on the fourth labyrinth, to create a loop that my party will never leave. I then use a binder clip to squeeze down the A button on my 3DS, and whaddya know, I’m grinding for XP while leaving my 3DS plugged into its charger overnight.
There are, of course, risks. Holding down the A button means that all five members of the party just keep attacking over and over. There’s no way for them to heal each other, either in terms of HP or status effects. Just gotta hope that nobody dies, basically. There’s a skill that two of my party members have that lets them all regain a fixed amount of HP after a battle ends, and a skill one of them has that lets them all regain a fixed amount after every step taken on the map. Those, combined, mean that my party enters each new fight at full health. Still, I can’t send them into the toughest maps and expect them to live.
Using this trick, I pretty easily had a level 40+ party (where 70 is the maximum before you get into post-game content) in a single night of grinding. I then had them all retire and, I guess, go fuck off forever. Retiring allows you to remove a character from your guild’s roster and replace them with somebody who is half the level, maximum starting level of 30, as the retired character. This new character has a bonus to all of their starting stats equal to the tens digit of the retired one (or 10 if the retired one was level 99), as well as a number of bonus skill points equal to the same number. This means that the new guy starts weaker and potentially gets better than the old one.
I absolutely love this system, by the way; not just because it lets you make stronger guys if you’re dedicated to the idea, but because it suggests that your retired characters had been training new recruits in their downtime to take their place when they left. I fucking love that! It’s totally implied; nothing is stated. But to say “Your Sniper has retired. This new Sniper has appeared to take their place, and also they totally have stat bonuses based on the old Sniper” is to say “Your Sniper has retired. THEIR DISCIPLE STEPS FORWARD TO SHOW YOU WHAT THEY CAN DO.” And that, my friends, is pretty fucking cool to me.
Anyway, like I said, I’m still only on the fourth labyrinth, or “stratum,” which means that I don’t have access to all of the character classes just yet. You start off able to choose from a melee heavy-hitter with an emphasis on elemental “link” abilities that grant allies bonus attacks, a melee heavy-hitter with an emphasis on defense and defending the party, a melee lightweight with an emphasis on buffing the party in all sorts of ways, a melee welterweight with an emphasis on inflicting status effects, a ranged lightweight with an emphasis on paralyzing attacks and hitting whoever the fuck they want, a spellcasting featherweight with an emphasis on healing spells, and a spellcasting featherweight with an emphasis on attack magic. After the second stratum, you unlock a spellcasting featherweight with an emphasis on status-inflicting “circles” and added effects caused by dismissing those circles. After the third, you unlock a melee heavy-hitter with an emphasis on hurting themselves to pump up their damage output to crazy levels. After the fourth, you unlock a fourth melee heavy-hitter with an emphasis on doing explosively large elemental damage followed by a cooldown period.
Once I get that last guy, I’m certainly going to retire my entire level 70 party to work one of them in. You don’t need to have the replacement guy be the same class as the one they’re replacing.
I really don’t need to, though, I think! At least, not for right now. I know that there are some superbosses that you want to make goddamn sure your party is insanely strong to kill, but I’m fucking max level right now and not in the post-game content where you can unlock the higher level caps by killing dragons nine times larger than your airship (they are so big that if you attack them before post-game, they literally just effortlessly slap your airship out of the sky and your party is wiped out and you have to heal them all up in town before you can try getting back into a dungeon again). Level 70 is good enough. Having access to only 9 out of the 10 classes is good enough.
But it’s never really enough, is it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have spent 80 hours deliberately building up the stats and relationships of my thirty-nine characters in Fire Emblem: Awakening. I’m only halfway through the game (I haven’t even started Chapter 15 yet, out of 25). I just really enjoy the grind. I like it when games make me feel like I’m accomplishing something as simple and yet as wonderful as getting stronger at a steady pace. I build up one character, then another, and then another. I now have close to a dozen characters with every single one of their accessible skills unlocked and all of their stats maxed. I’ve settled into a nice, smooth system where the already-maxed-out characters can help me bring a new character up to maxed-out status in only a couple more hours. So, by that logic, I have roughly fifty-four more hours to go before I tackle Chapter 15.
In EO4, though, it’ll just take one night with the binder clip. I don’t know if the game designers knew people like me would do that or not. It reminds me of how I used to level grind in Final Fantasy: Tactics by having all of my characters stand on one side of the map and have their AI set so that they just kept casting a free buff spell on each other while the enemies stood dumbfounded on the opposite side of the map. A friend of mine referred to it as the game masturbating.
Well, you know what, masturbation is fun, too, if you do it right.
I feel like we all, no matter who we are, leave a legacy. Some sort of evidence of our existence, I guess. I dunno, I could be wrong; there could well be some people who are born and die without affecting anything in the world. I don’t know what legacy I’ll leave, but I feel selfish enough to say that I want somebody out there to remember certain stories I have to tell.
I just really want to tell this story, that’s all.
This is one about when I was a little kid. I hated my hair as a kid. I still hate my hair as an adult, but I’ve gotten more used to it, and I’m mostly just glad that I still have it and that it’s not at all gray. When I was little, though, it was a messy tangle of slightly wavy red that never laid flat like I wanted and was always just a little bit too long. It wasn’t until I was 18 years old that I learned how to use hair gel, and even today I spray some thin watery sealant onto it in the morning to keep it nice and neat.
My whole childhood, up until that event when I was 18 and I cut it super short and gelled it to spike it up (keep in mind that this was 2002, and that was fucking trendy as shit in those days, get off my back), I wore it like a tiny businessman: part on the left, combed down the sides. I’ve since gone back to that style a few times, and have it even now, when I am actually a salaryman in an office.
But as a kid, the slightest breeze or provocation would send it into a fucking mess. I hated that. I was constantly fingercombing my hair in the mirror at school, until I finally started carrying a comb around with me at all times at some point in junior high specifically because my hair was just so fucking bad. In high school, I got made fun of for my hair not ever moving in high winds; it did, though. The guy who made those jokes just didn’t seem to notice me constantly adjusting it.
It wasn’t until after graduation that I even got it cut regularly. I don’t know what the story was as to why, but my parents were pretty neglectful about getting me haircuts and doing my laundry. It meant a lot of ill-fitting and worn-out old clothes that I didn’t like to wear, which of course led to a lot of bullying, and it meant that my hair was really bushy most of the time. I also had really bad sideburns. Like, I don’t really know how to explain it except to give an example: you know how Link from the Zelda games has those long locks of hair where sideburns would be, but no beard? That’s how I was as a kid. No trimming on the sides. Ever. My mom was actually really upset once when my dad took me to get a haircut and the barber used some clippers to buzz the sideburns shorter. She was really honestly and sincerely upset about it. I was at least twelve years old by this time. I remember that I was in junior high. I remember her saying that I’d had sideburns my entire life. This mattered to her.
It mattered to her that my hair look a certain way. I didn’t tell her, because I was scared of her, but secretly, I loved it. I loved the way that the super-short hair felt when I brushed it with my fingertips. I used to get a couple days of jokes at my expense whenever I got a haircut, since it only happened every three or four months, but I was too young and naive to realize that’s what they were. You know, just dumb shit like “Oh, looks like you finally got a haircut!” said in that asshole way to suggest “It’s about fucking time!”
It’s hard for me, looking back, to know what I should have done differently. I know a guy I met after we were both done with high school who used to have to wash his own clothes using dish soap in a creek behind his dad’s trailer, and had to sleep in a tent. Naturally, his clothes weren’t very clean. And just as naturally, he got bullied for it. Like, there were kids in school who looked at him in his dirty smelly creek-water-washed clothes, and they though to themselves, “This guy should be able to do better for himself.”
He couldn’t! What the fuck choice did he have? His dad already beat the shit out of him on a regular basis anyway for every little goddamn thing he did, so it’s not like he could force the issue and suddenly he’d have a nice house and a washing machine. It’s not like I could suddenly just have a closet full of clothes without holes, that fit me properly, and have a nice haircut that didn’t make me look like such a fucking loser.
I’m not suggesting that my bushy hair was as bad as my friend’s beatings and muddy clothes, but I am saying that, looking back, it’s kind of incredible how helpless we both were as kids.
Also, these days, I square off and trim my sideburns every goddamn time I shave. I fucking hate sideburns like you would not believe. That friend of mine? Uses the nicest-smelling goddamn laundry detergent and fabric softener he can.
So basically, things have been really busy for me at work lately. Which is good, I think! I guess I could be wrong.
I’m also super tired when I get home now, though, so I was all pumped to write some shit this morning and now I just don’t wanna. So instead, please enjoy this list of things that have been going on.
I got a second cat! My first one, Tina, has been very bored and seemed lonely and inactive for this last year. Since I love my cat, a lot, I tried my best to keep her happy and active on my own, but I’m home and awake and able to care for her significantly less than twelve hours a day, so I decided to look into getting her a friend. My mom, being crazy, picked one up from her vet’s office the very next day, telling me that I could return him if I wanted to. He was originally named something really stupid, and it took me three days to figure out a new name for him. With Tina, I bounced names off of her until I found one she seemed to like. With this guy, I tried names for three days until I found one he didn’t seem to hate.
He’s a good cat, and I named him Max. He gets along pretty well with Tina, though he’s definitely a lot more energetic and wants to play a lot more often than she does. Since he’s also about a third bigger than she is, this led to some problems for the first two weeks. Eventually, Max figured out how to tell when Tina didn’t want to play; for example, when she growls and hisses and doesn’t run around and play with him. He’s learning.
At work, I’ve been put onto an additional team to help out with system testing. I follow scripts step by step and say whether or not each step passes or fails (i.e., does what it’s supposed to do or doesn’t). It’s very tedious, and many steps fail, which makes it even more tedious since I have to link each failed step to a defect or create a new defect to describe it.
I’ve still been playing Fire Emblem: Awakening. I caved and bought the DLC map that you can play over and over to level up super fast, and so now, to continue my metaphor from last time I talked about FE:A, I am sharpening my scissors to a ridiculous degree. I’m really enjoying the game, especially the ridiculous Support conversations used to build up relationships between units. Some of them are pretty funny; some of them are kind of weird. I paired off Ricken and Panne, which led to a hilarious proposal between an apparently-twelve-year-old boy and a fully-grown rabbit-beast woman. The scene was actually pretty well-written; Ricken tells Panne that he wants to be friends with her for life, and she agrees, and also Ricken just sort of happens to give her a ring with his family crest on it which his father gave to him to give to the woman he’s going to someday marry. So it’s unlikely that they’re having crazy weird shota/furry sex in the barracks when I’m not looking, but they eventually must do SOMETHING, because their child from the future is a recruitable character.
I guess that’s about it. Video games, cats, and work. That’s-a my life!
I think that the biggest problem I face is that I am afraid of literally everybody.
I finally got my hands on a physical copy of Fire Emblem: Awakening, because it was so insanely universally loved by every gaming site that I read, and Google Reader lists ten that I read. Each review and article came with the usual warnings, and I knew them all going in.
So apparently I have a fourth follower, now, which is very surreal to me. My entries are way too long for me to expect literally anybody anywhere ever to read them.
They now consist of an old friend whom I’ve known since my college days, and three artists whose work I deeply admire who followed me back after I followed them. I think that’s cool of them to follow me back, but, like I said, I hardly expect any of them to be reading this. If they are, that’s pretty awesome, though. I hope I’m not boring them to tears and that they don’t think I’m stupid.
Well, I did go and have my first of potentially five free counseling sessions this week on Wednesday, as planned. It was with a man of at least seventy-eight years old, and I know this because he gave me a sheet of paper with his qualifications on it that listed a bachelor’s degree from 1956, which would put his birth year in roughly 1934. He also has a degree in ministry, and a master’s in psychology, and has been doing the counseling thing for over thirty years. Longer than I’ve been alive. He expressed his confusion and amazement at the world of computers when I told him that I am a software developer, and required a fair bit of explanation about what exactly it is that I do (to be fair, literally everybody requires explanation of what it is that I do). The guy can’t relate to me. I can’t relate to him. He’s fostered thirty-seven children, he tells me. He’s been married twice and has adopted four children and fathered two.
On the 27th (six days from now, in case math is hard), I’ll be seeing a shrink for the first of a possible five free sessions. It was really hard for me to talk over the phone with the person setting it up. See, I work for a big enough company with fancy enough benefits to get access to a program that lets me have five free “face-to-face counseling” sessions. I’ve used them before, back in Virginia, about seventeen months ago, now. I’ve done a lot of counseling sessions. They’re not bad. I just don’t have a lot of spare money right now (for more details of my financial situation, see previous entry) and don’t want to spend any on doctors and drugs.
But, well, I’ve been down enough lately that I’ve been straight up suicidal some days, and I think that there’s nowhere to go but further down if I don’t get some help. So I called them up and spoke with someone about how I’d like to take advantage of the counseling. Then, of course, the questions started.
Man, I fucking hate talking about my depression with other people. I tried to explain that I have “some depression issues,” and was hoping I could leave it at that. No such luck. Yes, I think about harming myself. Well, I guess the last time was today, since we’re talking about it. Okay, other than that, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t keep track. Certainly less than a week. No, I don’t actively want to die right this second. I just think that being dead wouldn’t be so bad. Yes, I suppose that does mean I just want the pain to end. Everything is just hard. Getting up is hard. Doing literally anything is hard. It feels like a big heavy blanket wrapped around myself at all times.
Yes, I have the means. I have a gun in my home for safety’s sake. No, I am not willing to give it to someone else; my neighborhood is not safe enough for that, which is why I have it to begin with. Even if I didn’t, I have pills, I have rope, I have a knife, I have a fucking engineering degree, I know how to kill myself if I fucking want to, it’s actually not that hard, there are lots of ways that the human body can be forcibly shut down. No, I do not have a family doctor. No, I am not taking any medication. Yes, I probably could get someone to take me to the hospital if my thoughts get really dangerous (I don’t, really). Yes, I’ll look into finding a doctor for any bio-chemical causes of my depression (I won’t). Yes, I’d appreciate some phone numbers for “crisis” lines (I do not know what a “crisis” is).
No, my schedule is not flexible enough for me to make an appointment for tomorrow. I am at work until 5 every evening. Yes, that means I need an after-work hours appointment. Here is my zip code. Here is my address. Yes, your map is right, East Main Street is only 3 miles from where I live. Yes, I will hold.
Yes, one week from today is fine. That’s sooner than I thought it would be, in fact. Yes, really. It’s really fine. Alright, I’ll talk to the person from the office I’ll be visiting now. Yes, that is my name. Here is how you spell it. Here is my address. Here is a phone number where I can be reached. Here is my social security number. Yes, I can be there at 6:00. I can be there at 5:30, in fact. Yes, I would prefer to fill out the paperwork there.
The whole conversation took about twenty-five minutes. It was, to say the least, emotionally draining. But I had it, and I have an appointment now, and I’ll get to go see the fifth shrink in an ever-lengthening line of shrinks who have made me briefly feel better until I stop being able to see them and then I feel bad again.
Living alone is not good for me. Being alone is not good for me. I am not proud of the fact that I evidently need to have someone actively supporting me and telling me nice things in order to feel good, but that is the evidence, and I am an engineer. Numbers and statistics do not lie, and the past has shown me that I feel better when I have someone I can go visit and talk to for an hour every one to four weeks about myself and how shitty I feel all of the time and what I am doing about it and what I can do about it going forward.
Honestly, I really want to start on medication again. I know my insurance won’t cover it, but I feel so bad all of the time right now that I don’t even fucking care. If it means no more new video games for a while, then I can live with that. In the past, medication hasn’t helped, but I’ve tried four different setups and I like to think that there are more out there that I can try until I get it right.
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