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.

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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.

Yakuza 0

After being one of the best video game series around for the last half decade or so, Yakuza finally got its big break with Yakuza 0, the first game to really explode in much deserved popularity. I have to assume this is mostly down to timing and platform, with Yakuza 0 being the first on the PS4 and access to it’s easy sharing functions, because while Yakuza 0 is a ton of fun ii primarily does the same things as the previous two games in the series. There is no great leap forward in presentation or play to explain this entry’s popularity. There is that it is a prequel, with the implied lack of series baggage. Knowing the series plot history has never been a true hurdle to playing this series; each game tends to knock down all of the dominoes it sets up leaving a clear playing field with the new status quo for the next one. But thinking you have 3 or 4 games worth of story to catch up on can definitely be a perceived hurdle.

The biggest change, gameplay wise, is going from having a handful of playable characters who each have different fighting styles to having just two playable characters who each have several fighting styles. In Yakuza 4 and 5, the game split the story up between 4 different characters who each fought in different ways. (Yakuza 5 also had playable Haruka, who didn’t fight except with dance.) Across the two games you had the familiar Kazuma Kiryu with his balanced style, the hulking Saejima who is slow but powerful, Akiyama with his quick kicks, Tanimura with his counter based style, and Shineda the former baseball player who incorporated his baseball skills into a fighting style. Those are condensed onto Yakuza 0’s two protagonists, Kiryu and new playable character and series mainstay Goro Majima. Kiryu has his own fighting style along with Brawler, a heavy style somewhat reminiscent of Saejima and Rush, a speedy style similar to Akiyama. Majima has his own unique style and a baseball influenced not unlike Shineda. It allows the game to simplify the story while not losing any complexity in the battle system.

The other change is the game’s time setting. Yakuza 0 is set during Japan’s 80’s bubble economy, so money plays a big part in this game. Money does everything. Gone are experience points from previous games, which have been replaced with money. The big sidequests for both Kiryu and Majima involve business ventures that make money hand over fist. You can also go disco dancing and have disco dance battles. For the most part the game retains everything that makes the series great, but it manages to fill in the edges with period detail to make the setting a big draw.

I am mixed on Yakuza 0’s plot. It is largely in line with the rest of the series, which means lots of fights and double crosses alongside long conversations about the nature of masculinity and honor. My problems come from the fact that young Kiryu doesn’t quite work and that the game focuses on him when this should be more fully Majima’s game. Majima, as he has frequently done as a bit player in the grand Yakuza tapestry, steals the show here. But he doesn’t get quite the opportunity he should have.

Kiryu is the stoic rock at the center of the series and this game, which usually works given the what goes on around him. Here, though, he comes off as slightly bland. Instead of being a quite badass, he comes off as something of a nothing. Part of the problem is that young Kiryu doesn’t work as well as the older version from the rest of the series. Even when we first meet him at the start Yakuza 1 Kiryu is a man entering his prime, ready to take full advantage of his abilities. Here he is young and green, his taciturn approach lacks the world weariness that is a huge part of his character in later games. It would have worked better, I think, to have him be a little more hot-blooded, a bit of trouble maker. Kiryu has never shied from using his fists to solve problems, this tale works better with him growing into the man he would become instead of just people realizing what a badass he is. What does work in Kiryu’s story is how it builds his relationship with Nishiki. That never quite worked in the original Yakuza, because the game didn’t really sell Nishiki as a friend before Kiryu went to jail. This game builds that relationship.

Kiryu’s story is kind of familiar; he is framed for murder and ends up expelled from the Dojima Family as he tries to figure out who framed him, eventually setting him against his former allies.

Majima is easily the more interesting character, and his arc could be more fully formed if he had the same story real estate as Kiryu had. At the start, Majima is disgraced, living out of Kamurocho and working running a cabaret club. He wants nothing more than return to his crew, but has no real avenue to do so. His story really gets going when he gets a way back with an order to commit a hit. Except the target turns out to be not what he expected and Majima ends up trying to protect a young blind girl from just about everybody.

The game kind of tracks Majima’s development into the Mad Dog Majima that we all know and love, but that throughline is kind of muddled. You can see the pieces that are supposed to be tied together to build that story, but they never really gel. I won’t lie about the relationship between Majima and Makoto really worked for me. Makoto, for much of the game, isn’t much of a character, but in the middle part of the game she really starts to be an actor in the goings on. The two of them have a kind of genuine romance like this series has never seen. So when it comes to the end [SPOILERS] and Kiryu is the one who is saving her while Majima is simply after revenge [/SPOILERS] it kind of hurts. Especially the last few scenes, where the two of them go their separate ways. The problem is that Majima’s threads seem to get a little short shrift when compared to Kiryu’s comparatively less engaging plotline.

Yakuza 0 is a very good game. It certainly deserves its success. I don’t know that I would put it above any of the PS3 games (I acknowledge Yakuza 3’s shortcomings while really liking its story), but there isn’t a lot of difference in quality between them. I am pumped to get the the other 3 Yakuza games I have on the PS4.

Now Playing in August 2018

Beaten

River City Knights of Justice – I apparently got annoyed and abandoned this with little more than an hour or two left before I beat it. It isn’t a bad little beat-em-up. It takes the Kunio characters and tosses them into a medieval fantasy setting. However, I expected this game set in an rpg world to have at least the rpg elements of River City Ransom back on the NES and this doesn’t. It is mostly a straight brawler, with some limited equipment options. While it has that same easy fun gameplay, it never stops being a slight disappointment. It doesn’t help that it has an NES caliber story/translation (I am not sure who is to blame). Deciphering the story requires a ton of reading between the lines, despite how much talking there is. Still, I had fun with it when I could adjust my expectations.

Xeodrifter – A fun little metroidvania that I think I picked up as part of a humble bundle a few years ago. It is mostly a lot of fun though it is very small. Not just that the game world is small, but there are also few enemy types and one boss that you fight repeatedly. It is perfectly fine for what it is, but it feels more like an appetizer than a main course. The only problem I have with the substance of the game is that the player character feels a little slippery. He is weightless and kind of slides around. Still, it is worth playing.

Ongoing

Suikoden V – I’ve been posting about it. I hope to finish my replay in September, but we’ll see if I have the time.

Yakuza 0 – I finally got my PS4 back and started back in on this. I kinda miss the expansive cast of the previous two games, but making their movesets different fighting styles for Kazuma and Majima keeps that variety around at least. I am just now getting to the meat of the story and it is pretty much everything I want out of a Yakuza game.

Little Battlers eXperience – My 3DS is littered with games like this; interesting sounding rpgs (or action rpgs) that I downloaded, played for an hour or two and then abandoned for something else. Now I am trying to go back and see if there is anything worth looking into. So far, I am really liking this. It has some Custom Robo to it, with the player getting to build their own little fighting robot. I am hoping the customization options keep opening up. The story is straight bonkers, which I guess in the norm for Level 5 (see below). I am still not completely sold on the actual fighting; the game seems to rely too much on special moves and waiting for opponents to stand back up.

Inazuma Eleven – Like LBX, this is a download game I played for a while and abandoned. Like LBX, it is by Level 5. Like LBX, the story is insane. I am near the end of it now, and I am pretty sure I don’t like this game at all. There are a lot of systems and things to play with in setting up your team, but the actual soccer is pretty disappointing. I guess I should point out that this is a soccer rpg; it plays essentially like a jrpg, but the battles are soccer games rather than fights. It is a great idea, but the soccer isn’t actually that fun to play. World Cup Soccer on the NES did a better job of integrating special moves and the like into a soccer game than this does. A lot of the problem is due to it being married to stylus controls and a screen that is simply too small to make that set up work.

Upcoming

Super Mario Galaxy – I will get this back on track. I’ll only be finishing this series a couple of years late.

Etrian Odyssey V – I need to get back into this. With 3DS games kind of drying up, (I mean, not completely, but the few that are coming out are not all aimed directly at me) I am making a concerted effort to get through my backlog of games that has built up. This is a game that I was very excited for, but it hit at a bad time and I never really got going in it. I am sure it is up to the series usual quality.

More Yakuza – I am making progress on Yakuza 0 and I expect to move on to Kiwami soon after I finish that. After that, I will likely either go straight to Kiwami 2 or 6. I think I’ll save 6, so probable Kiwami 2.

Super Mario Bros Replay: New Super Mario Bros U

New Super Mario Bros U, to date the last New Super Mario Bros game, is absolutely the best in this subseries. The first New Super Mario Bros was a delightful return to 2D for Mario after a decade away, New Super Mario Bros Wii (which I don’t currently have access to) improved on that first game and added the fun of simultaneous multiplayer and New Super Mario Bros 2 was mostly just more of the same, but it showed a greater mastery of level design than the previous two. This one brings all of that together for a game that is creative and interesting and masterfully designed all around.

Like NSMB2, this game came out during a glut of Mario games and I don’t think it was properly appreciated. It doesn’t help that it is currently, exclusive to the tragically ignored WiiU. Some people think it is the best Mario game, but many more have likely never gotten to experience it. Hopefully the rumored Switch port becomes reality, because this game deserves to be played by more people.

NSMBU does its best to ape Super Mario World in many ways and it mostly succeeds and at times it surpasses that SNES classic. It brings back the world map stuff that helped make that game so memorable, for starters, with alternate paths opening up based in taking specific exits. Finding those deviously hidden paths is delightful. Otherwise, it is mostly just a Mario game, if a particularly well made one. It is hard to specify how the level designs are great without going into specific examples, and I really don’t have those queued up, but the difficulty curve is masterful. Most players should be able to beat the first couple of worlds without trouble. The next few provide more challenge, especially if the player is insistent on getting the hidden coins in each stage. Then the last couple of worlds are truly challenging, though largely surmountable without too much frustration. It provides a game world that has something to offer players of all skill levels and is set up to teach players to be better at the game.

Possibly its truest triumph is in the presentation. It is the first outing for Mario and company in HD and it shows, in a good way. Stylistically it is the same as the previous “New” games, but it just looks and moves amazingly. Then there are the special levels. Certain levels use a special graphical style that is beyond anything else. The most notable example is the swamp stage with a background patterned off a Van Gogh painting. There are other examples making for a game with varied and interesting looks that perfectly complement the play.

There isn’t anything new in New Super Mario Bros U, but it does almost everything other Mario games do better than it has been done before. If this turns out to be the last game in the “New” line of Mario games, it is a fitting end. It is everything those games are at their peak.

On to, or back to, Super Mario Galaxy!

Monster Hunter World

I was admittedly pretty nervous about Monster Hunter World. While the trailers and previews I had seen looked excellent, they had made one thing very clear to me: Capcom was changing things up with this game. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the changes seemed like they might be affecting core of the series and could change Monster Hunter into something else. While there are certainly things about the series that could use some updating, altering the series too much runs the risk of losing what made it so compelling in the first place. Luckily, Capcom managed to focus on just the changes that needed to be made, making a completely modern feeling Monster Hunter game that still plays like a Monster Hunter game. Maybe the best Monster Hunter game.

Monster Hunter World is still Monster Hunter. The game removes a lot of the seams from the game, but it still plays largely the same. Some of the smartest moves Capcom made were about the stuff that the game didn’t change. The array of weapons are the same as they have been for the last two games. There have been adjustments to how each weapon works, but they are same ones that have been there for years now. It is a familiar base to build from as other things are altered. The structure also hasn’t changed, it is still up to four players hunting a beast or two, it still has the same rhythm. You take a quest, you eat a meal and then you go out on a hunt. The combat is the weighty, measured affair that it has always been. Afterwards, you take your rewards and try to build better gear to kill bigger monsters. That repetitive, simple core of the game is what makes it so easy to lose yourself in. After every couple of quests you can make some new weapon or armor and you will be a couple of piece closer to making the next one on the list.

Monster Hunter World takes the bones of the series and then takes advantage of the greater power available to them with the current consoles. That means that the graphics are significantly improved. Which is to be expected; the last few games were on the 3DS and the last console one was originally made for the Wii (it did get a WiiU upres, but it was still working off of Wii base graphics). It also allows for the maps to be more intricate and layered. Instead of just a dozen screens to run around in, the areas in this game are dense, dynamic environments. The game has removed the loading screens between areas, meaning that each map is now one big playground, albeit a playground with a lot of interesting little areas to explore. Aside from looking better, the monsters have more fluid arrays of behavior, especially when there are more than one of them about. Monsters seem to truly interact with each other, getting in fights and acting according to certain characteristics. The big alpha monsters of each area scare off the smaller game, roughly equally powerful monsters fight it out. Before, the only monster that really acted anything like that was Deviljho (someone will correct me with monsters I forgot). The game just feels more alive than previous games in the series have.

The other thing that Monster Hunter Word added was to the hunting part of the formula. Before the hunter part consisted of a lot of tedious, mostly fairly simple systems. Bring a spit to cook meat on, Paintballs to hit a monster and mark it on the map. Just a lot of little systems that don’t add a whole lot, but also weren’t all that much of a hassle. Now, the game adds some track checking and some fireflies that after you find a monster’s trail help lead you to it. Of course, those fireflies do more than lead the player to monsters, they also lead players to any sort of item that you need to forage out in the wild. They are a really elegant edition.

The biggest problem I have with Monster Hunter World is that there really aren’t as many monsters as previous games. That is to be expected with the jump to new hardware, but it is still a little disappointing. The new monsters are mostly really cool, but I really miss some of my old favorites, like Brachydios and Zinogre. Hopefully, Capcom will add some of those back in later editions, that I am sure are coming, or sequels. As it stands, Monster Hunter World is excellent.

Suikoden V Past Ties

Suikoden V is a game with one very clear goal: to be as much like Suikoden II as possible. That is evident in every fiber of the game. It is a pretty big change from the previous PS2 Suikoden games. Suikoden III came out in the wake of Final Fantasy X and is an ambitious game that bites off a little more than it can chew and is just a little out of sync with the times. Still, it feels like game trying to push the genre forward in a way that the 16-bit throwback PS1 games didn’t. Suikoden IV feels like a game trying to keep up with the big boys of the genre, but manages to sand off a lot of what made the series unique. (I used to hate Suikoden IV, but while I still consider it the weakest mainline entry in the series, I’ve softened on it lately) Suikoden V, despite its charms, feels a bit like the series giving up and grasping at ties to the series most popular entry in an attempt to recapture its fans.

I don’t know if Suikoden V was truly low budget or if it only feels that way. I assume it didn’t have close to Final Fantasy money tossed around during development. It is riddled with bugs and inconveniences. But it also feels cheap because its odd camera angle. Suikoden V’s camera is static and position as close as they could get it to the 2D games. While the character models are fine, the how zoomed out everything is makes it feel really small. You can zoom the camera in, but it doesn’t change the angle, so it mostly just cuts off the player’s view. Everything about the game’s presentation screams reminders of Suikoden II. As a fan of that game, it is comforting, but it does little to account for the difference between 2D and 3D games. It just feels very low budget. The game also goes back to the six person party, but eschew’s the pairs system from Suikoden III, and most of that game’s skill system.

One of the strangest ways that Suikoden V echoes Suikoden II is that it has alternate Stars of Destiny. Among its 108 Stars, Suikoden II had a couple that were mutually exclusive. At one point the player has the option of picking one of two returning characters from the first game to be the representative of the Toran Republic, country where first game took place, the one you don’t choose never joins your army. There are also a trio of monsters to recruit, though only two of them get to be stars of destiny. As far as I recall, none of the other games do this. Except Suikoden V; it has a pair of mutually exclusive stars. Except having them be so doesn’t really make any sense. The two mutually exclusive stars are Eresh, a tiny mysterious wizard with ties to series mainstay Jeane and whole extra dungeon (extra section of dungeon) to flesh out her (?) story and Euram Barows, a secondary antagonist who plays a big role in the story from the start. Eresh is a side character with marginally more to do than the bulk of the lesser stars. Her and her connection to Jeane are some of the more interesting incidental parts of the game. Her dungeon, the big hole, is left completely unexplained if you do not recruit Eresh. Having her be an optional recruit, when there are so many lesser characters, is an odd choice. Making Euram an optional character does make sense, though his being optional kind of leave his arc potentially unresolved. Euram is a worthless little shit throughout the game, starting as an ineffectual ally before switching to an ineffectual nemesis. He starts the game in a position of power and loses everything, mostly through his own incompetence, but unless you make him the last recruit to your army, his story line just kind of disappears. His plots to discredit the protagonist have all failed, his father has been killed and his sister has disowned their family. Him joining up brings it all full circle, he has learned from his experiences and is ready to help fix things, if he doesn’t join he is just gone. I like that the game gives the player the choice whether to let Euram have his redemption or not, but the fact that adding his useless behind to the army means going without Eresh makes it a lopsided choice. It is a choice I believe the game would be better off without.

While the game doesn’t pick up on any of the big mysteries left simmering after the first three games, mostly dealing with the Harmonia and Pesmerga and Yuber, it does bring in some characters mostly because they were included in II. The big one is Georg Prime, who in both games is a serious badass. Basically the whole story of this game springs out of one detective investigation of Georg from II, which alludes to his history in Falena, which is one of the few mentions of the country before this game. V also returns Killey and Lorelai, a pair interested in the Sindar ruins. This is Lorelai’s third appearance in the series, but Killey had previously only appeared in II. The two of them are investigating the Sindar, a mysterious ancient race that is connected to the True Runes that end up important in most games in the series. While V offers no more answers than any game in the series, it at least gives a few clues.

At the point I am at in the game right now—I just saved the ravaged town of Lordlake and finally my army has a castle for its headquarters—it is clear that the pacing of events also echoes Suikoden II very closely. This is harder to define, but the rhythm of new area to story sequence to dungeon to army battle feels very familiar. This is where the game shines, I might like the protracted opening even if no one else does, but once the game gets past that and kicks into high gear it is one of the most enjoyable games on the PS2.

I still have a lot I want to write about with Suikoden V. The character Sialeeds, the story in general, some of my favorite minor characters. I feel like as soon as I publish this I am going to remember a lot of the stuff that connects this game specifically to Suikoden II and curse myself for not including it, but I’ll find a place to put it in.