|I'm having flashbacks to my honeymoon.|
Windwalker has provided at least one unique experience: I have rarely in my CRPG-playing career been so baffled as to what I'm supposed to do. In a change from the small, closed, linear world of Moebius, Windwalker's world is quite large, and the game gives few hints as to any order of progression. I've spent the last few days just wandering around the various islands, fighting guards, assassins, and thieves, amassing equipment and gold, and finding the occasional special item. If I wasn't increasing in levels at such a good clip, I'd think I was just wasting time.
Before I began playing in earnest, I spent a good four or five hours in training, trying to master the combat system. The game's opening menu gives you the ability to fight a cycle of combats with both staff and fists against each of the game's enemies. I found it so difficult that I started keeping an Excel spreadsheet of each enemy, my weapon, his position, his distance, the combat move, and the outcome.
|This, right here? This is the definition of "nerd."|
After these hours of practice and data analysis, I was able to distill strategies against each foe and win the entire cycle of training combats, which meant that I started a level higher, at BADGER. More important, all this experience has made the combats in the game comparatively easy. Enemies behave predictably and fall to the same strategies repeatedly. When I'm attacked by a royal guard, I know to advance one step, which invariably causes him to advance one. While he's mid-stride, I make a high kick followed by a punch, then cartwheel away and repeat until he's dead. Similarly, for assassins, I know to simply dance around them until they attempt their flying kicks. Then I back up while they're in mid-air, causing them to miss, and respond with a high kick to their heads as soon as they land. For thieves, you wait until they try to stab, then respond with a spinning roundhouse kick to the face.
Combat is frequent in the game, especially around the palace, where royal guards respawn constantly and provide plenty of grinding opportunities. But despite the heavy focus on combat, the game is strangely pacifistic. I've found no weapons so far, and based on the introductory training, I suspect that even when I do, it'll be a staff instead of a sword. The game is careful to mention that you don't actually kill your enemies and loot their corpses; instead, they "flee" when you beat them, discarding their equipment behind them.
|He didn't "flee," dammit! I knocked him unconscious!|
There is absolutely no indication of enemy damage during combat, so you just have to keep punching and kicking until they finally collapse. Even when you seem to beat the foe, there's a small chance that he'll be "determined" and rise again for a few more hits (this can also happen to the PC). Much of the game consists of sailing between islands, and enemies can sail up and attack from their own ships.
|Imperial warships discharge four or five royal guards in sequence before they give up and sail away.|
Aside from combat, the gameplay is inoffensive but underwhelming. It isn't a clear improvement over Moebius. Yes, there are more extensive NPC dialogues and an actual economy, but the series has lost the need or ability to hack through trees and rocks, the magic system is simplified, there are no animals (at least, none that I've encountered yet), and so far there haven't been any complex puzzles. The interface consists solely of directional movement, speaking, and using items from the inventory (even sleeping involves selecting the "straw mat" from the inventory, something that took me forever to figure out).
|The economy is a nice addition to the game, though I don't know what a lot of this stuff is for.|
Perhaps the biggest change since Moebius is the introduction of a clearly Ultima-inspired virtue system, represented by the "honor" meter. You don't have to achieve avatarhood or anything; the honor bar starts full and it's yours to lose. You can lose honor by stealing from cabinets in private homes and probably a few other things I haven't discovered. Stealing incense from a shrine causes you to lose all your honor, and no one will talk with you after that. I don't mind admitting I just reloaded when that happened. Anyway, it's there, but it lacks any of Ultima's complexity.
|Gideon loses an eighth.|
As I said, I've been wandering the islands, trying to figure out what to do. Some of the encounters I've experienced are:
- Visited a couple of shrines and learned the "incense" system. Basically, you find "common incense" throughout the game on enemies and in shops. You need a priest to "bless" the incense to use it, at which point you can invoke it with prayers like "heal my body" and "empower my spirit."
- Talked to a lot of townsfolk about the Warlord and the Emperor. The consensus seems to be everyone hates the Warlord and wishes the Emperor would be freed from prison, and that the Alchemist is a jerk for helping the warlord. The Nubian princess is being held in an unknown location.
|Speaking with one of the Warlord's concubines.|
- Found a cave with a stone idol and instructions for performing a "tantric dance" of 14 steps. Going through the steps in front of a couple of idols rewarded me with healing elixirs.
|That's what it's all about.|
- Discovered the house of an explorer named Di Ahn Jon. Notes left behind indicated that he went to the Isles of the Dead to investigate the recent appearance of evil spirits on the nights of the new moon. He left behind a helpful map.
|I don't know if this is the whole world or just a part of it.|
- Di Ahn Jon's journal also indicated that "by bringing a turtle shell and the shoe of a blind person to Kah Noh Bi [really?], I was able to gt an invisibility talisman that makes it much easier to explore the island." I haven't met Kah Noh Bi yet, but I was able to get a turtle from a fisherman and a shoe from a beggar, so I'm ready for when I do.
In one of the few combats I lost against a royal guard, I was captured and thrown into the Palace Prison. Rather than reload, I decided to roll with the punches and see what happened. It took me a few days (in-game) to figure out how to escape, and during this time, the Warlord paid a visit and kicked my butt with his double swords.
|Everyone seems to know my name in this game.|
I eventually got the woman who delivered food to the prisoners to agree to leave the door unlocked. I escaped, defeated the guards outside, retrieved a key from the jailer's office, opened the cell next to mine, and had a lovely conversation with the Emperor's wife, who seemed in no hurry to escape. I didn't find the Emperor himself, but there was another cell that wouldn't open to the key.
I fought dozens of guards getting out of the palace, but not before looting the throne for a box of jade.
|Is it really necessary to have the disembodied head a second time in this message?|
As for next steps, it's clear that I have to visit the Isle of the Dead and see what I can do about the raised spirits, but I probably also need to visit the Alchemist on his island. I'm sure I'll have to rescue the Nubian princess at some point, but I don't know how. And I have some rumors about a legendary retired assassin on one of the islands.
I realize this posting is a bit disorganized, but then again so is the game--though I do think it's interesting that within the first hour of gameplay, you can just wander up to the palace and fight the Warlord. He defeated me so easily--I didn't land a single blow, and his one hit vaporized all my health--that I don't imagine there's any chance of winning this early. (Does anyone know otherwise?) If the game has one virtue, it appears to be a certain nonlinearity, though I'm hoping by next time, I have some slightly better direction towards the main quest.