Super Mario Replay: Super Mario World 3D World

Super Mario 3D World is the perfect culmination of all the Mario games that came before it. It shows influences from Super Mario Bros 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy, New Super Mario Bros., and Super Mario 3D Land. The influences of nearly every game in the series can be felt in this celebration of the series.

 

Like in Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario 3D World has 4 playable characters, initially. Mario, Luigi, Toad and Princess Peach all play roughly like they do in the NES classic. While the brothers themselves being playable it isn’t exactly a surprise, I believe this is the first time Peach has been playable since SMB2. It has a world made that is reminiscent of Super Mario World. It has the simultaneous multiplayer of the console New Super Mario Bros games. The touch of nearly all of the earlier games can be felt in this one.

Super Mario 3D World lacks a little of the wonder of Super Mario Galaxy. Its little diorama levels do not feel as alive as Super Mario Galaxy’s planets. That appears to be deliberate choice. Galaxy was constantly trying, usually successfully, to overawe the player. It tried to make each level seem huge while keeping the player’s focus on the usually actually fairly narrow path. Super Mario 3D World lets the player see the seems. It isn’t trying to be anything more than it is; and what it is is immediately comprehensible. That is necessary when trying to play with more than one player. Everyone has to know where they are and where they are going. The game is almost a complete repudiation of the 3D level design of Super Mario 64. That game attempted to create mini-worlds, 3D World’s levels are clearly artificial levels. It works, but it is a trade off.

There is still plenty of wonder in playing the game. That wonder comes from the delight in the almost puzzle like playgrounds that are its levels. It isn’t the exploration of earlier 3D Mario games, but more of just exploration of how. Something the Mario series does better than anyone else is in its variety. The player’s abilities are actually quite limited, but the game is constantly finding something new to do with them. There are a decent number of power ups. The flashy new one is the cat suit, which dresses each of the playable characters as a cat and gives them vaguely cat themed abilities. With the suit, Mario can climb up wall and swipe at enemies. The levels that feature that power up tend to have more verticality, taking advantage of the climbing abilities. Then there is the double cherries which create a duplicate of your character. That mostly serves to create mayhem, but it also allows for some devilish platforming challenges, requiring the players to keep multiples alive. There are also a bunch of classic power ups with more limited general uses and limited unique power ups that exist mostly for the levels they are found in. Added to that are the differences in characters. To get all the collectibles, some stages require using a certain character. Otherwise, it is smart to fit the character to a stage. For most stages, a player will likely want to use Mario or Peach, depending on the player’s skill. Mario, as usual, is the all around character while Peach is slow, but her hovering jumps act as a useful crutch for new players. Luigi is the best jumper of the group and is needed to get to some hard to reach area, while Toad is the fastest and can simply run by some obstacles. The game, infuriatingly but understandingly, tends to put character specific collectibles in stages where that character is not the expected choice. Still, all that is superfluous and only really interesting on a replay.

For as good as the whole game is, and honestly Super Mario 3D World might be my favorite game in the series, the crown jewel are the Captain Toad levels. It makes sense that Captain Toad got his own spin-off based on those levels; they are a delight. While I called the regular stages dioramas, Captain Toad’s stages are the ones that really run with that idea. The stages are even more limited, mostly fitting onto one screen, and so is the character’s abilities. Toad can walk and he can walk slightly faster. That is about the extent of his skills. He can’t even jump. You have to mosey him around the stage snagging stars out from under the noses of oblivious enemies, mostly through stepping on switches and manipulating the stage. I love them.

The biggest flaw with the game is that Nintendo shut down Miiverse. Miiverse has always been a great idea that was never going to work. There is a lot of 3D World Miiverse functionality that doesn’t do anything anymore. One of the collectibles from stages are generally very neat stamps for Miiverse posts that are now useless. Miiverse created a sense of community in the game and you feel its lack. Even without it, Super Mario 3D World is still a damn near perfect game.

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Now Playing December 2018

Beaten

Mega Man 2 — I looped back around and finished off the NES Mega Man series by beating the game I am currently prepared to admit is the best of the bunch. (I have long been on the Mega Man 3 side of that argument, but it is always close.) Mega Man 2 is a just such a perfect, compact slice of game. Every game after this adds something between the 8 robot masters and Dr. Wily’s castle. Here, it goes one to the other. The game is smaller, but it feels like a more comprehensible experience. Mega Man 2 is just such a great game.

Ongoing

Rune Factory 4 — Eventually I am going to get through this game. It is likely going back on the backburner for a while, but one day I will clear it. I am more than halfway through, but the odd gameplay incentives that this game creates usually put me off after a few hours. I don’t know how to describe it; it seems like when I am gearing up for adventuring, the game pushes me to do farming, when I am happily farming, the game seems to want to get to those dungeons. I think the problem is me, not the game, but I keep only being able to nibble at this.

Final Fantasy 15 — I got this for Christmas last year and have only barely started it. I wanted to make some real progress, but the game just hasn’t really clicked for me. I just don’t quite get it. I might just need to force my way through some more story stuff and really get some progress going. It might just have to take some steps back on my backlog. I like the setting, so far, it is that I haven’t quite digested and understood how the game plays. I will, though.

Celeste — I got talked into buying this while it was on sale and I am loving it. It is hard, but it letting up pick up right at the spot you failed takes a lot of the sting out of the difficulty. Honestly, it feels a lot like 1001 Spikes, another super hard platformer. Celeste it trying to do a lot more with its story. It also has a very acrobatic set up. It gives the player a very simple set of tools and then just figures out every possible use for them. It is great.

Etrian Odyssey V — I apparently put this game down last winter just before I hit the spot where the whole game kind of gelled. That point is one I’ve found in every Etrian Odyssey game. For a while, sometimes 3-4 floors, sometimes closer to 6, the game just kind of is. Mapping out floors is as addictive as ever, but the personalities of the classes are clear yet; the player doesn’t quite know how things fit together. Then you hit a point when the characters start getting more skills and you can finally really craft the party you want and everything just feels right. I hit that point within an hour or two of getting back into this and have cruised through most of the game. I should have it beaten and a full post about it up not long after this one.

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean — I bought this back when it first game out (more than 15 years ago) and have never made it much further than the first town. It is something that was certainly right in my wheelhouse when it came out. I just never really got around to sinking sufficient time into it. During Christmas break, when I was at my parent’s home with the Gamecube, I tried it out again. I didn’t make it much further than the opening town. I like the look of it and I like the concept. I just didn’t have the time to sink into it. I intend to get back to it.

Upcoming

Dragon Quest XI — This is the only video game I got for Christmas and I am going to push right to the top of my PS4 queue. It looks really good.

Pillars of Eternity — I backed this on kickstarter way back in the day, but I never got around to playing it. Or at least, I never go much further than the character creation screen. My brother getting the game, on XB1, for Christmas kind of reminded me that it exists and I am going to try to play it next month.

Now Playing Nov 2018

Beaten

Super Mario 3D World – read about it here.

Suikoden V – I’ve written about it repeatedly.

Mega Man IV – This is kind of a disappointing game. MM2 and MM3 are nearly perfect as escalating counterparts, MM2 with it compactness and MM3 with its expanse. MM4 doesn’t really have anything to add. Other than the charge shot, this is just more but slightly worse. I enjoyed it, but it is one of the lesser of the NES games in the series.

Mega Man V – This is something of a bounce back for the series. Its stages just feel a little more inspired than the previous game and the charge shot feels better integrated into the game.

Mega Man VI – I am trying to not make this just a ranking of Mega Man games (for the record: II>III>V=VI>IV>I) but this one feels pretty much on par with 5 in not quite matching 2 or 3 but not being as flat as 4. The new rush adaptors are an interesting addition, as are the stages with alternate paths. The bosses only get halfway where the need to, with some feeling like entrants in a robot fighting tournament but others just being more elemental robots. Honestly, the differences between NES Mega Man games are slight. This one is a lot of fun.

Mega Man Legacy Collection – I’ve had this game for years, but I never really messed around with its challenges. I did not, and can not, complete all of these challenges. I am not that good at Mega Man. However, I did beat most of them. Other than starting the player with a bunch of challenges featuring easily the worst NES Mega Man game, the first, the challenges are wonderful. They distill the games into bite-sized chunks of the best and/or most difficult bits. It works so well. I loved it. I am glad I finally got around to messing with them.

Ongoing

Yakuza 3 – I’ve gotten through the first chapter of this game and I am eager to play some more. Once finals are over I should be able to dig into it a little more. After playing the PS4 entries in the series, this is a step back.

SMT: Devil Summoner – Soul Hackers – This game is stymieing me. I like it generally, but I learned this series with later games that had significant quality of life improvements. There is still a lot that is good about this game, but it is hard to pick off after some time away and recall both what I was doing and how the game works. I am not giving up on this game, but I don’t think I am going to be actively playing this in the near future.

Upcoming

Shovel Knight Plague of Shadows & Specter of Torment – I’ve had these for literally years, but I have never really given them a chance. I absolutely loved Shovel Knight the first time around, and I am ready to stop putting off these two alternate campaigns.

Final Fantasy XV – I got this for Christmas last year and never really gave it the time it deserves. I want to at least make an attempt at it before Christmas this year.

Etrian Odyssey V – I’ve been meaning to get back to this for sometime, and seeing stuff about the coming Etrian Odyssey Nexus makes me want to get through this before the next one comes out.

Yakuza Kiwami 2

I decided to follow up the first Yakuza Kiwami with the recently released remake of its sequel, my other option being the finale of the Kiryu saga Yakuza 6. Going straight to Yakuza Kiwami 2 let’s me do a full series replay before closing out the Kazuma Kiryu’s story. Unlike with the first Kiwami, I never played the original version of Yakuza 2, so this was all new to me.

Okay, maybe all new is an exaggeration; the game isn’t really all that different from the previous games in the series. But the story was all new and it is the first game I’ve played made for the PS4 (Yakuza 0 and Kiwami were both released on both the PS3 and PS4). I have now played all of the numbered games in the series and while Yakuza 2 is not the missing masterpiece that some claim it to be, it is a worthy and exciting entry in the series. Since I haven’t played the original release, I can’t really compare the Kiwami version to it, so I will mostly talk about how Kiwami 2 works on its own terms and not as a remake.

YK2 feels a little like a game that doesn’t really know where it’s going; like Sega never really planned for a sequel to Yakuza and didn’t really know what that sequel was going to be. It struggles to Kiryu back into the Tojo Clan in a logical manner. At the end of the last game, Kiryu ran out after being made head of the Tojo Clan, leaving outsider Yukio Terada in charge while he rode off into the sunset with Haruka. This game starts with the Tojo Clan in crisis, as Terada has proved to be a less than effective leader. When he is assassinated by the Omi Alliance, Kiryu reverses course, dumps Haruka back at the orphanage to try to prevent all-out war between the Tojo Clan and the Omi Alliance.

Since just about everybody was dead at the end of the last game, Kiwami 2 has to repopulate the cast with new characters to kill. The big additions are Ryuji Goda, Kaoru Sayama, and Daigo Dojima. While the additions are great in this game, only Daigo has any lasting influence on the series. Part of that is the nature of Goda’s role in the story. He is the antagonist, one of the few direct foils that Kiryu faces in the series. They set him up as a straight counterpart to Kiryu; they are both ‘dragons,’ both adopted by older leaders in their clan and both the most feared fighters in their respective organizations. Goda is Kiryu gone bad. It works, when the game actually lets them face off. Unfortunately, Goda disappears into the background for a large chunk of the middle of the game. It isn’t as bad as Nishiki no showing most of the first game, which the Kiwami remake went a long way to fixing, but it still gives a little too little room to make an impact. On the other hand, Sayama does leave an impact. She is a pretty straightforward love interest, but she fills that role well. She isn’t a damsel in distress; she is a dangerous and capable player in this drama. It is honestly more her story than Kiryu’s. Too bad she is never seen or heard from again.

The big problem with with this game is that it has no stakes for Kiryu; he is just sort of there. The story would honestly work better if Daigo Dojima replaced Kiryu as the lead. He is brought back in to deal with the power vacuum, could face off against another upstart and he could have the love story with Sayama. Or perhaps it could have taken the road of Yakuza 4 & 5, which split the game among a handful of playable characters, with a lot of these newcomers getting their own chances to shine. I guess I shouldn’t be trying to change the game in my head; it isn’t like it is bad. It just feels like a surprise sequel that was made without much of a plan for where the story would go next. The only thing the game seems sure of is that Kiryu is the protagonist.

I think I like the new engine this game uses. Everything feels more fluid and contiguous. Earlier Yakuza games seemed to switch modes frequently, with there being clear delineations between fighting and exploring, between outside and inside. This engine smooths those distinctions. It makes for a more cohesive experience. I do miss the variety that the other games have, but this is still a lot of fun.

I don’t have a lot to say about Kiwami 2 as a game, the only real change from the previous Yakuza games is that new engine. I love this series and despite my niggling complaints about story stuff, I loved this game. Like all my favorite game series, such as Zelda or Mario, it is so easy to lose yourself in a Yakuza game. There is this delicate, wonderful balance between the hard boiled crime story and the unabashedly weird substories and peripheral stuff. I should clash, but somehow it doesn’t. And while I groused about Kiryu being ill-fitting as the protagonists of this game, he is still and all-time great character. He is the one piece of solid ground in the fluid terrain of this Japanese underworld. On to Yakuza 3.

Suikoden V

As I approached the end of Suikoden V I began to feel increasingly wistful. I slowed down with playing the game, somewhat sad to end it. Mostly because I am fairly certain that this is the last time I will have the time to play through this game. My time for video games is limited and I likely will not have another 50 hours to put into what is honestly a fairly mediocre game. No matter how much I like it overall, I can’t deny the technical deficiencies that make the game something of chore to play at times. If in the future I have time to replay a game, I don’t think I am going to choose this one. Not when I could play Suikoden 2 or any number of SNES or PS1 games.

That doesn’t change my belief that Suikoden V is a very worthy game. It is. It’s plot and it general vibe I find incredibly enjoyable. I like large parts of what it does mechanically, pulling back from the mess that was Suikoden III’s battle system, but keeping a few if its twists to add to the classic formula. The addition of formations instead of just having two lines, making it easier to use the party members you want to use. The war system is a good evolution of what has been an afterthought in most of the series. The final dungeon finally does something interesting with the mass of characters that the player has recruited. That dungeon is right out of Final Fantasy VI, requiring the player to fill out three full six person parties to each tackle a different branch of the twisting maze of a dungeon. It is honestly pretty great. The game doesn’t prepare the player for anything like it. That multiple party set up happens repeatedly throughout Final Fantasy VI before culminating in the massive final dungeon. Here, the game just kind of springs it on you. Still, it is more good than bad. It just feels like an idea that could have been carried through the entire game instead of a one time expansion.

The ending of the story is kind of abrupt. The Prince and his forces have very few setbacks once he starts actually fighting. There is a final desperate gambit by the Godwins (I refuse to believe that name is a coincidence) that never seems close to working even as the Prince is forced to abandon his castle. Mostly because it turns the powerful dragon cavalry against his enemies. Otherwise, there are just so many unforced errors by the Godwins, choices that do nothing to advance their avowed cause but do help turn people against them, that the Princes victory seems inevitable.

The inevitability is part of what sent Sialeeds to the other side, as she switched sides mostly out of a desire to use the civil war as a way to do away with as many of the backstabbing nobles as possible. The fast resolution that the Prince was bringing things to would not have done solve the root problem. Of course, the game doesn’t really show that, it leaves it to interpreting one or two scenes and some incidental dialogue.

The end then comes as something of an anti-climax, with the villain finally discovering a way to use the Sun Rune without attaching it to anyone and the Prince having to stop him before he can do so. There is something off when the Prince sees visions of the people he lost along the way, his parents and his aunt most prominently, but also includes some of the villains. It strikes me as an odd touch to deliberately portray the villains as fascists then also show them smiling in heaven at the end, as though the game believes the villain’s assertions that there is little difference between them and the Prince, since they both want what is best for Falena, even though the Prince has prevented at least two genocides during the game.

One place the game unfortunately shines is in its cast and how ripe for further adventures they seem. The game almost seemed to be setting up a sequel following characters like Shula to Armes. Shula and his two aides/bodyguards are interesting characters that join very late in the proceedings. They feel like there is much more to learn about them, but they play a very small role here. I really like the cast of this game and was left wanting to see more from many of them, mostly in a good way. I’ve already written about how much I like Sialeeds, but there are plenty of other favorites. I like the family from Raftfleet; Logg, Lun and Kisara. It is kind of a sitcom family dynamic, but he can see why these characters work together. Kisara is the second command of Raftfleet, spending most of her time Raja. She is serious and respected. Her husband Logg and daughter Lun are introduced as something of joke characters. But as the game goes on you see the worth of Logg. He shows his bravery and his talents, being repeatedly relied on for dangerous missions involving boats and having a knack for getting things he is not supposed to. It is easy to see how Lun is caught in between her somewhat piratical, adventurous father and her respected mother. She wants to live up to both of her parents, and the game shows her at least partly on the way to doing so. I am also a fan of Nikea, Oboro and Dinn. I don’t think this cast overtakes the one from Suikoden II as my favorite, but there is a lot to like.

All the things I like is what makes this playthrough so bittersweet. I am fairly certain I will never play this game again. Which means I will never see the rest of the various interstitial scenes with these characters. I will never track down all the hidden things stuffed into the corners of this game. It isn’t just this game; I seriously doubt that I will have much time for a lot of time for replaying, or even playing for the first time, games I’ve played over the last ten or so years. That means those games will not have the time to cement themselves as favorites like a lot of my favorite games on early Nintendo and Sega systems have. I don’t foresee a time when I will go more than a couple of years without running through Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI. I doubt I will ever touch many PS2 games again. But I am glad I took Suikoden V out for one last spin. It isn’t a classic. It isn’t great. It is somewhat underrated and a worthy successor to the Suikoden series one great game. I don’t harbor much hope that it will ever be accessible, but I hope a few more people give it a chance.

Now Playing October 2018

Beaten

Yakuza Kiwami 2 – read about it here.

Mega Man 3 – It has been too long since I’ve played this. It is still a great game. I’ve begun to accept that Mega Man 2 is the superior experience. But this is the game I spent all my time with as a kid and this is the Mega Man game that I love. I hadn’t really played it in several years until a few weekends ago. It took a couple of attempts, but I pretty quickly got into a groove and cleared the whole thing. I don’t like the Yellow Devil, but otherwise I love this game.

Super Mario Galaxy – read about it here.

Mercenaries Saga 3 – I bought this as a cheap Final Fantasy Tactics rip off. I got what I paid for. I don’t really mean that as an insult. It plays like FFT on a budget. Everything works just fine, but it feels kind of bare bones and under tested. There is still that baseline enjoyment or moving guys around a little map and using terrain and skills to defeat opponents. However, it lacks FFT’s delightfully breakable job system. The story is roughly on the same level as FFT’s original translation, minus the attempts at grandeur. Mercenaries Saga 3 isn’t a terrible way to spend $8.

Gargoyle’s Quest 2 – This has a well deserved reputation as a minor NES classic. It displays Capcom’s mastery of the system in its later days. (This was a 1992 release, contemporaneous with Sonic 2 and Super Mario Kart) It takes an RPG world map and combines it with fairly unique platforming levels. That uniqueness is largely due to the interesting abilities of Firebrand. It is a game all about managing his hover meter, moving laterally but not on the platforms. The problem with the game is that it requires some jumping with no way of knowing where you are going to land beforehand. That is a complaint, but not a game breaking one. It just leads to some frustrating hits. Otherwise, this game is really, really good.

Costume Quest 2 – I tried to beat five horror or Halloween themed games before the end of October. The first game that jumped to mind when I decided to do that, Costume Quest 2 was the first game to come to mind. I bought it a few years ago around Halloween, but I didn’t end up beating it, mostly because I got it on the WiiU but it doesn’t allow the player to play on the tablet. It is just big screen. Accepting that, I decided to finish up this little adventure. It takes about 6 hours to beat and that is about all the game there is in the premise. It is a pretty basic RPG with characters changing abilities based on which costumes they wear. The costumes allow for quite a bit of customization in the party. The battles, though, play out mostly identically once your party is set. The story if fluff, but largely pretty amusing. This is just a fun little game, enjoyable but easily forgettable.

Spirit Camera – This is a neat little experiment that isn’t much of a game. It uses the 3DS cameras for an AR experience. It comes with a booklet that the game reacts to to create ghosts that can only be seen through the 3DS. It is really neat, putting the player in the role of a survival horror protagonist stuck in a cursed book. It is actually a neat little short story. It is rather short though. It can be beaten in less than three hours. The biggest time sink is getting the camera to actually recognize what it is looking for. You have to play it in excellent light, or the AR scans in the booklet won’t work. It can be truly frustrating. It is an amazing experience; the game does a lot of interesting things with the book and general AR stuff. There just isn’t a lot of there and the illusion is completely broken when it doesn’t work right. Still, it is definitely worth playing.

Ongoing

Suikoden V – I am coming to the end of my revisit of this game. I’ll have one last post about it when I do (I might not expect that for more than a month) but it is turning into a more somber undertaking than I expected. Not because I don’t think the game has held up; it is just as much fun to play as it was when it first came out, but because I am beginning to suspect that this is the last time I will have the time or desire to play this game. Or any similar game.

Earthbound – I got an SNES Classic for Christmas and I haven’t really played it. I mean, I’ve turned it on and sampled nearly all of the games, but I haven’t really sat down and played any of them. I intend Earthbound to be the first, but I only managed to get through the opening.

Lollipop Chainsaw – This was another game I played for a Halloween celebration. It really feels like it wants to be Bayonetta, but the gameplay just isn’t there. It is sloppy and repetitive. The story stuff I might have enjoyed back when this came out half a decade ago, now I can barely tolerate it. Having a boss continuingly yell “slut” at the protagonist is just off putting. I don’t really know if I am going to finish this now that I missed Halloween.

Onimusha 2 – I already beat this once few years back, but I recall it being one of my favorite games if its ilk. I remember being especially intrigued by its branching story paths, built off of a friendship system with a handful of allies. So far I have barely gotten through the first few scenes of the game, which I have enjoyed very much despite the tank controls. The first game is getting–has gotten?– a remaster and I hope they follow up with this one.

Upcoming

Super Mario 3D World – I’ve actually already started, but this will be finished up soon.

Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers – I want to get back to this. I like it a bunch, for all that it still plays like it is twenty years old.

Yakuza 3 – I got distracted by Halloween games, but I’ll come back to this.

Xenoblade Chronicles X – I had a sudden desire to play through the parts of this I didn’t get to before I finished the story, only to have those hopes disappear because my nephew had deleted my save. I have some desire to start from scratch. We’ll see.

Yakuza Kiwami

Immediately after I finished Yakuza 0, I popped Yakuza Kiwami into my PS4. I had played the original Yakuza back in the day on my PS2, but other than the basics of the story and vague recollections of greatly enjoying it, I didn’t remember much. Going off those memories, Yakuza Kiwami is something of an ideal remake. It keeps the core of the experience intact while updating and fleshing it out and embellishing things.

The story of Yakuza benefits greatly from the context added both by the remake and by Yakuza 0. The story here is probably the simplest that the series has ever been, but it also felt a little lacking. Kiryu takes the blame after his sworn brother Nishiki kills their boss when he tried to rape Kiryu’s, and Nishiki’s, love interest Yumi. Kiryu is released from a ten year prison sentence, excommunicated from his Yakuza clan and finds out that Nishiki has risen far in the organization and become corrupt. So Kiryu tries to get re-acclimated to life outside of prison, he gets caught in plots and counterplots that threaten to tear the Tojo Clan apart. What didn’t really work before was the connection between Nishiki and Kiryu. The original told you how close Kiryu and Nishiki were, but it never really showed that. That problem is exacerbated by the game keeping Nishiki off the screen for almost the entire game. Yakuza Kiwami adds more the start (I think; I don’t remember the first few scenes) and interstitials scenes showing Nishiki’s development while Kiryu was away. Those, combined with the added context from Yakuza 0, work to make the connection between Nishiki and Kiryu believable. It makes more sense that Kiryu wants to reconnect with him despite all he sees and hears. It is still disappointing that two of the most important characters in the game, Nishiki and Yumi, get very little time on screen.

This game is clearly built on the same engine as Yakuza 0. It keeps the same array of fighting styles as that game, with Kiryu having three general fighting styles and one special one that is all but unusable until the end game. It all feels the same as the previous game, which is not a complaint. Both games are a lot of fun.

One of the biggest new change is the addition of the Majima everywhere system. Majima was a relatively small player in the first Yakuza, a memorable character, but not one that has a whole lot of plot significance. Since then, he’s evolved into one of the more loved characters in the series, up to his costarring role in Yakuza 0. To give him more to do here, Kiwami added Majima everywhere. With Majima everywhere, Majima takes it on himself to get Kiryu back into fighting shape after his prison stint by randomly fighting him all over town. With each encounter, or a set number of encounters, Kiryu traditional Dragon style is powered up. It is less annoying than it seems, at least initially. Majima uses all four of his fighting styles from Yakuza 0, so it isn’t the same fight over and over. He also trots out a series of costumes and hiding places to keep things interesting. And it works, at least until near the end of the game, when you’ve seen just about everything he has to offer and are trying to trigger specific encounters to finish upgrading the Dragon style. I don’t think the reward system for it was a good idea, since major parts of Majima Everywhere are locked behind story stuff, meaning Kiryu’s main style can’t effectively be used for most of the game.

Yakuza Kiwami is mostly just more of that Yakuza goodness. The game somehow manages the melodrama of the main plot with tons of inconsequential and downright goofy substories. Kiryu is a gangster with a remarkable aversion to actually do crimes, other than assault. Something new I noticed is how much this game draws from Battles Without Honor or Humanity, an excellent series of movies about the yakuza. The title is even referenced in a chapter title. The first movie starts with the forming of a yakuza clan in the aftermath of WWII as the rise and splinter and fall. A big part of that is one of the characters going to jail for a few years, only to get out and find all of his old friends either dead or changed. It takes up about a half hour in the movie, but it is essentially the same set up as Yakuza Kiwami.

Yakuza Kiwami is good. Newcomers to the series can start either here or with Yakuza 0 and miss nothing. I’ve recently beaten 0 and 1, and I’ve got Kiwami 2 and 6 on deck. I think I might take a trip through the whole series before finishing up with Kiryu’s grand farewell in Yakuza 6. Mostly because my Mario replay is wrapping up and I need a new project to fail to complete.

Super Mario Replay: Super Mario Galaxy

Yeah, I’m still doing this. It has been some time, and I might not be able to finish for some time thanks to the remaining games providing difficulty, but I am still going. Mario’s first appearance on the Wii hit me like a truck with an incredible combination of nostalgia and wonder that re-solidified it as one of my favorite all time games.

This is the game that really got me into Mario. I don’t mean that I didn’t like Mario games before Galaxy, but I never really thought about them or considered myself a Mario fan. One of my earliest memories is of “helping” my Dad play Super Mario Bros. By the time I was old enough to really play games, even Mario 3 was kind of old hat. Otherwise I was a late adopter and Mario games tended to hit early in a system’s life. I bought Chrono Trigger with my SNES, Mario World was already nearly five years old. My N64 came with Jet Force Gemini. Mario games were always just kind of there. Super Mario Galaxy changed that. I bought a Wii to play Super Mario Galaxy. I was in college with time and just enough money to get a new system. I considered the PS3 and 360, but I was mostly spending my gaming time on the DS (I put 300+ hours into Pokemon Pearl) and playing PS2 games I missed because I was a late adopter. But then I saw videos of Mario Galaxy and it was just something I had to play. It and Smash Bros. Brawl made acquiring a Wii a necessity. I never regretted it.

Super Mario Galaxy feels like a revelation despite being an obvious evolution of what came before. The first three 3D Marios follow the same pattern as the the 2D games. The first established how the games work, the next did something very different and then the third came back and perfected the first game. Super Mario Galaxy is definitely the Super Mario Bros. 3 to Super Mario 64’s Super Mario Bros. It plays in large the same, but features more, smaller levels and more adventurous power ups.

The most striking thing about the same is the feeling of unbridled creativity. You can beat the game with the only truly repeated challenges being the mandatory Bowser fights. One level you are running atop a rolling ball controlled with the Wii remote’s accelerometer. The next is a standard Mario level. Then a level with the new Bee Mario power up. And then Mario gets stuck in a bubble and you have to use wind to blow him through some obstacles. The most amazing thing is that nearly all of these different things work and work perfectly. The only one that doesn’t work is the motion controlled manta ray surfing, which is frustrating both (?) times it shows up. Everything else is just perfection.

The game also nails the presentation. I know its low def and on the underpowered Wii, but Super Mario Galaxy still looks good. It is vibrant and cartoony. Everything just looks right. The music is unassailable; boisterous and jazzy and perfectly fitting. The presentation helps make it so easy to just disappear into this game; to sit in it and lose full days as you collect star after star. That is something that few games can do, especially now that I am an adult. It is comforting. Super Mario Galaxy is damn near perfect.

I would hop right on Super Mario Galaxy 2, but I think I loaned it to my brother, so I’ll have to track that down. I do have Super Mario 3D World, so I might start that up sooner rather than later. It depends on how quickly I can track down Galaxy 2. I still need to track down a working copy of New Super Mario Bros Wii so I can get that one. Lastly, I have Super Mario Sunshine, but I don’t currently have a working Wii or Gamecube. It looks like that is going to be the last game I finish. If I finish this; when I started I intended to end with the release of Super Mario Odyssey, playing that game on my brand new Switch. Which I still don’t have.

Suikoden V Sialeeds

To me the most interesting character in Suikoden V is easily Sialeeds. She is in many ways a unique figure in a game with a cast deliberately designed to evoke the past. For one thing, she is the aunt of the protagonist. I can’t say I recall any other JRPG characters with that sort of family relationship with the protagonist. She comes along with the player for much of the first half or so of the game, as an integral part of the hero’s team. She is the one with the knowledge of the political situation and the country’s history that has been kept from the younger characters, like the Prince and Lyon, and unknown to newcomer Georg.

Sialeeds is also just a vibrant character, with an interesting design that says a lot about her. Like the fact that she dyes her hair. Many members of the royal family have silver hair (the Prince, Arshtat, Haswar, though notably not Lymsleia who takes after her father); Sialeeds does as well, though she dyes hers blond as an outward indicator of her estrangement from the royal line. She clearly cares deeply about her family, but in order to keep the peace she has deliberately allowed herself to be sidelined. That makes her an interesting companion for the Prince, who as a male is not in line for the throne and suffers from a similar irrelevance.

Sialeeds puts up this disinterested front. She sleeps late and takes a back seat on all diplomatic missions she goes on with the Prince. She is the fun aunt, but even early on there is an undercurrent of sadness there. Arshtat is clearly losing it, and there is nothing she can do. She has been completely and deliberately removed from any place of power.

That brings in her tragic backstory; really the tragedy of the entire Royal Family of Falena’s story. As the game eventually reveals, the generation before the present one in the game was marked by infighting among the various branches of the royal family. Queen Arshtat and Sialeeds’ mother was the younger sister and their cousin Haswar’s mother the older. Using ties to noble families, including the Barows and Godwins, and the assassins at Nether Gate, Arshtat’s mother schemed her way onto the throne. She left much destruction in her path, including Marscal Godwin’s wife. Arshtat, Sialeeds and Haswar were determined to not let history repeat, so when Arshtat took the throne, Haswar became the Oracle at Lunas, which meant that she would not be able to marry and have kids, so there would be no competing bloodline. Sialeeds broke off her engagement to Gizel Godwin, determining not to marry and create a possible rival royal line. By all indications, Sialeeds and Gizel were happily engaged, but Sialeeds sacrificed her happiness to try to keep peace.

So when civil war breaks out again, Sialeeds is understandably distraught. It also makes her eventual betrayal so surprising; though after the shock of the first time it makes more and more sense. The player knows how she feels about the politics and the nobility of Falena. If the Prince had managed to win when he did, the underlying problem would not have been fixed. Perhaps the Prince and new Queen could have fully defeated the Godwins, but they might have made peace and the plotting would begin all again. Sialeeds joins wanting to force this conflict to its final resolution. To her, Falena needed to be freed from the Barows and the Godwins so the country could move on. Her despair is disappointing and the betrayal shocking, but it is not hard to see her reasoning.

That makes her not unlike Jowy from Suikoden II, who prolongs the war after Luca Blight is defeated out of the belief that as long as both Highland and Jowston existed, there would be war between them. Unlike Jowy, though, there is no way to save Sialeeds in Suikoden V. She will die. Heroically, yes, but also tragically. There aren’t many characters in the series that get permanent deaths like this, outside of the opening hours of the games. At least not among characters that spent a good deal of time as a player character. The shocking death is usually the inciting incident, whether it is Odessa Silverberg in Suikoden 1 or Annabelle in Suikoden 2 or Lulu in Suikoden 3. Suikoden 1 does have the death of the protagonist’s father at about the same point in the game, and while it is tragic, he is mostly an absent figure in the game. The same goes for Suikoden 3’s Jimba. There are sometimes consequences when a player messes up, like with Pahn or Ridley in the first two games. Sialeeds death is inevitable, unavoidable and sadly permanent.

For all of her carefree attitude, her story is a tragic one, with the only silver lining that her plan apparently succeeded. She purposefully limited her life to try to keep the conflicts of the past from rising up again. Those conflicts came anyway, resulting the death of her sister. She deliberately betrayed everyone she loved to join people she hated just so that they could put a stop to the countries troubles once and for all and while she succeeded, it cost her her life.

Between her attitude and her role in the story, Sialeeds is not only the most interesting character in Suikoden V, but among my favorite characters from the PS2 generation of JRPGs.

Now Playing September 2018

Beaten

Yakuza 0 – read review here.

Yakuza Kiwami – review coming soon.  Shortly, this is a pretty great remake of a game I already really liked.  The Majima Everywhere sidequest stuff is fun on its own, but it doesn’t fit in all that well.

Ongoing

Yakuza Kiwami 2 – I am nearing the end of this. This game is built on a different engine than Yakuza 0 or Kiwami 1 and it took some getting used to. There are a lot of ways that it is an improvement, but I am not sure I actually like more. I was at time frustrated with how limited the usual Kiryu style was in Kiwami and Zero, but at least those games gave options. The fighting options here seems more limited. It might just be that I don’t like Yakuza 2 all that much; I think it may be my least favorite in the series.

Suikoden V – I am still making progress through this game. I didn’t make it quite as far as I had hoped, which was the pivotal moment of the Queen’s Campaign. But I made progress. I will finish this game before the end of the year. I am struggling more than I thought I would with technical limitations. Not the graphics or load times, but the awkward menus and other such similar frustrations. I’ve always known those were a problem with this game, but they have never bothered me as much as they have this time. Like a lot of PS2 games, Suikoden V could really use a remake, I guess.

Inazuma Eleven – I struggled through a bit more. The further I get into this game, the less like the gameplay. Fortunately, the story is increasingly nonsensical. I don’t think we missed much not getting these on the original DS, but I wouldn’t say no to more Inazuma Eleven.

Upcoming

Yakuza 3 – I need a little break from Yakuza, but I’ve decided to turn playing 0-2 into a full series replay leading up to playing Yakuza 6. So that means playing through 3-4-5 on my PS3. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to get through them before the end of the year. 4 and 5 are still fairly fresh in my mind, but it has been a long time since I played Yakuza 3 and I’m eager to play it again. I know that Sega is planning HD re releases for these games, but I have them now and seen no reason to wait.

Final Fantasy XV – I got this for Christmas last year and have barely started on it. I want to play it. I have been hearing very good things from online friends, so if I can fit it in I am going try to put some hours into it.

Super Mario Galaxy – I started this a few months ago, but haven’t really made an effort to much time into it. I plan to get around to it during Fall break.

Etrian Odyssey V – I have never given this game a real chance. Once I finish a couple of books that have been my going to bed routine, a 20 minute dungeon foray will likely replace it.