Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Fire Emblem Heroes

Have you ever tried a Fire Emblem video game?
I will admit general ignorance when it comes to games coming from Japan. However, I did brush myself against Fire Emblem a couple of times, falling in love with its character driven tactical, D&D like, battles.
The story is linear; you flow through it, basically narrowing down your role into pure battle management. The battles, too, seem simple: you can only move your character on the square grid and choose your attacks. The battle system is a simple RGB coded affair: red beats green, green beats blue, and blue beats red.
But that is not the point; the point is the attachment you have to your characters, who are full of character, as you develop them through battle. The point is to care for them in battle, because most Fire Emblem games pivot around a permanent death system; do wrong and that character you nourished since it was a baby is gone for good.
On the Nintendo 3DS, battles range across large scrolling maps and numerous characters on both sides. Often a good fight lasts close to an hour, especially if permanent death is a threat. Which, as usual, means that I simply do not have time for Fire Emblem no matter how much I like the game.


That has changed since this past weekend, when Nintendo released Fire Emblem Heroes on mobile (both iOS and Android).
Things are much simpler now: the maps are much smaller, battles are limited with up to four characters per side. Both of which mean that I can pick my iPad up in the five minutes I get in between breathes and pick up a good fight.
Alas, Fire Emblem Heores suffers from that bane of mobile gaming: it’s a freemium game. Yes, you can play for free, but if you really want to go places [fast], you will need to open your wallet. In Heores’ particular case, you can spend money to get the more exotic/powerful heroes so that they can fight on your side.
Thus far into the game I see no reason to deviate from my policy of no in app purchases, period. Heroes does let you win game currency through battle, for a start; on the other hand, I did reach a wall where I can no longer win such currency without a lot of grind. Thing is, I don’t mind the grind at all; if anything, it gives me an opportunity to practice my lesser heroes and see if the tactician that is yours truly can manage to beat superior odds with two hands behind my back. As far as I am concerned, this is where the bulk of the fun is to be had.
That's probably because one cannot attach much to the characters, the Heroes. The characters the core story revolves around are those you start the game with, which - due to battle inferiority - will not be the heroes you will fight with. And, unlike the console default, there is no permanent death in Heroes. I guess even Nintendo will only go that far under the dreaded in app purchase regime…
You will also be unable to go to far with this game because, like most other Nintendo mobile games (Super Mario Run and various Pokemon stuff), Heroes requires permanent internet connection. Nintendo has all sorts of excuses to justify this; I suspect it has more to do with Nintendo seeking to make money on the side through user tracking (to its credit, the iOS app description openly says so - unlike the bulk of other apps, that do so behind the scenes). Still, fact is I cannot play Fire Emblem Heroes on the train. Also, proceedings are slower than they could be. Boo!
Technical complaints aside (no matter how important they are; your mileage will vary), Fire Emblem Heroes is one of the better mobile games I got to know. A serious and deep game that manages to transition into the mobile platform without losing character almost perfectly. But yeah, if only Nintendo could stop being Nintendo and do things properly! I would have loved to open my wallet once and get to play a proper game of Fire Emblem on my iPad.

You may have noticed I did not post this under my reviews blog. There is a reason for that, and that reason is I cannot offer a qualified review for a product that Nintendo is clearly able to steer this way and that on a whim. Through simple changes in game currency pricing and heroes availability, the game can quickly vary from quick and easy fun to a frustrating money grub affair.
Currently, things are good. But who knows when and if Nintendo will pull a Trump on us?


Fire Emblem Heroes image used under fair use.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Back to Stupidity

The final death throes of my Pebble watch proved too much, even for me. I'm back to my good old Casio for now.
The real question is, where to from here, smartwatch wise?

And the answer to that question is a truly sad one. There is no answer.
On one hand, one can choose between the Apple Watch and Android watches. Me, I won't touch an Android watch due to my views on Google's snooping; regardless, all members of both Apple and Google camps are compromised. They are, generally speaking, vastly expensive for what they offer, while their functionality is rather limited when compared to their cost. Yes, I know I'm saying the same thing twice, but it's important to recognise both deficiencies. And, very importantly, both require one to carry a power station along for the ride because they need charging at least once a day.
Nah.
On the other hand we have the activity trackers (read: smartwatches of inferior operating systems). You know, your Fitbits, the gadgets that track people activities and enable their makers to sell their customers most private data to third parties. Well, as long as those customers actually use the gadget, because the average Joe gets the point and dumps the Fitbit after a month or so.
Yeah, nah.

I am very much baffled by the lack of a company out there that will deliver me with a smartwatch that does one thing, pretty much, but does it well: alert me of incoming notifications on my smartphone. Sure, if that smartwatch can also last a week or so on a single charge, and if that smartwatch is waterproof as well, that would be great.
All I'm asking for is a company that gives me a Pebble.


Added on 06/02/2017:
Another vector of privacy loss involving smartwatches is wifi tracking. To sum the problem up quickly, every time your wifi enabled gadget gets in touch with any wifi network, it tells that network about all the other wifi networks it knows. Thus, you walking around a shopping mall with wifi enabled on your phone allows the shopping mall to know where you live and work as it tracks your movements around the mall (and I'm invoking the shopping mall example because in Australia this is exactly what they do).
Apple showed some weak signs of dealing with this vulnerability since iOS 8. However, it does not seem to have said a word about using similar strategies on its Apple Watch (where, it has to be said, one cannot simply switch wifi off and keep the phone "alive" through Bluetooth; it's both or nothing). I asked that very question at an Apple shop, but even after several escalations they were unable to provide me with an answer.
So there you go.