Now Playing February 2019

Beaten

Celeste – Celeste is just about a perfect game. It is one part a meditation on depression, one part maso-core platformer. It does an amazing job of teaching its mechanics in each stage, slowly letting the player learn them in a safe environment before requiring performance in a treacherous setting. It is set up to kill the player a lot, but also to make the punishment for each death minimal. Instead of a death setting you back, it more affects your ‘score’ of deaths in each section. I’m sure someone who spent more time thinking about it than I did can think of a way the story interacts with the mechanics; instead I just found it to be a heartfelt take on dealing with depression. What a great game.

Ongoing

Etrian Odyssey Nexus – I think I am nearing the end of this. It is already the largest Etrian Odyssey game I’ve ever played; I am on something like the 30th dungeon floor. I pretty quickly settled into a solid team; I burn through resources like crazy and am super fragile, but they do some damage. While I apparently have a goldfish memory when it comes to these games, this does appear to be a very heartfelt greatest hits collection of all of the games in the series. I’m at the point where I kind of just want the game to end, but knowing this is the last entry in the series on the greater DS family of consoles, I also kind of never want the game to end.

Dragon Quest XI – slow progress, but some progress. I am still loving this game, I am just not loving the amount of time I have to play it.

Beyond Good and Evil – This is a fun club entry and a game I haven’t played in close to fifteen years. The first two hours reminded me why I liked it so much. This is a really fun world. The game feels like an evolutionary link between Ocarina of Time and Assassin’s Creed. I might have to do a longer write up when I finish this.

 

Upcoming

Shin Megami Tensei – Either Soul Hackers or 4: Apocalypse. I am in the mood for some Shin Megami Tensei, and I have these two unfinished 3DS games.

Final Fantasy XV – As soon as I finish Dragon Quest XI, I am going to put some serious time into this. Spring break is coming up and I am going to relax a lot.

Epic Mickey – Copy and paste from last month.

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Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King

For Christmas, I was given Dragon Quest XI for PS4. Playing it for a couple of hours reminded me of just how much I like Dragon Quest. It also reminded me that I didn’t finish Dragon Quest VII: Journey of the Cursed King when it was released for the 3DS a couple of years ago. So while I waited for Etrian Odyssey Nexus to be released, I dug out my copy to jam in my 3DS and finish off the playthrough I started back then.

Dragon Quest VIII makes an interesting counterpart to Dragon Quest XI because they are so similar. Even in a series known for sticking to a formula, these two games are nearly identical. They are both visually impressive, back to basics games. Both of them are games if not designed, at least positioned for success in the West for what is largely a Japanese series. With the caveat that I’m only about a third of the way through Dragon Quest 11, they are both two of my favorite games in the series.*

Dragon Quest’s reputation for staidness is a little overblown; it does occasionally tinker with the formula. VI and VII has some narrative innovation, with a job system that didn’t become available until too long into the game and some other strange pacing choices. Immediately following 8 was Dragon Quest 9’s Monster Hunter influenced take on the series, with its multiplayer stuff. Dragon Quest 8 was the only “normal” Dragon Quest game for about a decade on either side of it. Really though, the game is stripped almost bare of mechanics and characters, resting its accomplishments primarily on the purity of its vision.

That works for the game. There is a little bit of character customization, letting the player choose which of a handful of weapons each character can use. However, the party capped at 4 characters in the initial release. The 3DS added two newcomers, one who felt like she could have been on the team originally and one oddball. Still, they both join up very late in the proceedings and are mostly there for late and post-game shenanigans. The limited party with limited options lets the game be very specific with challenges. There aren’t a lot of ways to break the game, to do things out of sequence or blow up the difficulty curve. That is a mark against the game with many people, I know. I do enjoy games like Final Fantasy Tactics, which just lets the player go nuts and tear it apart, or Breath of the Wild, which encourages the player to do things their own way. However, I am not one to dock a game for carefully calibrating the experience. There are no shortcuts and few tricks to getting through Dragon Quest VIII, you play at the games pace.

It works because that pace is good. The game starts with a fairly simple quest: King Trode, Princess Medea, and their entire kingdom have been cursed by the evil jester Dhoulmagus. The protagonist is the one lowly guardsman who escaped the curse, and now leads the quest to break the curse. At the start they are joined by Yangus, a burly thief with a heart of gold. Soon they are joined by the fiery Jessica, whose life has also been overturned by Dhoulmagus, and cool playboy Angelo, who has been cast out of his religious order. It is not a story in which characters change a whole lot. The protagonist is silent cipher, with the player having some ability to shape his personality. Yangus has already went straight by the time the game starts, and is always Eight’s, as the protagonist is called, right hand man, with insider knowledge of most of the lowlifes they run into. Angelo is always more than he seems, and most of his secrets are full revealed by the time he joins. Jessica maybe gets the most growth of the party, as she learns her potential after being stifled most of her life. It is a fun group, with different perspectives and reactions to everything the party runs into. But it is also a limited group; you pretty well know how each of them are going to react to anything by the midway point.

The game tailors the challenges around that limited party. Early on it knows that the player has only Yangus’s power and Eight’s all around qualities; that is a time for simple strategies as the player learns the game. Then it adds Jessica the mage, and gives her opportunities to shine. Finally, you get Angelo the healer, so the game can really take the gloves off and come at the player. Your options are always limited, but there are enough things to consider when fighting bosses. It just all works wonderfully. The new additions to the 3DS version add some wrinkles near the end, but that is too late to really change things.

The story, building off the simple quest, is Dragon Quest’s traditional vignettes, with each area telling a complete story that is also a piece of the larger story. That is the best thing the series has going for it; very few games work like that and even fewer do it as well as Dragon Quest. One detail I love is that there is a low key mystery through the game about how the protagonist avoided the curse that is never dealt with before the post-game. No other game would leave that detail for post-credits revelations. Also, the game is gorgeous. The visuals are slightly downgraded on 3DS, but they still create a wonderful cartoon world.

So far, everything Dragon Quest VIII does well, Dragon Quest XI does too. It is structured the same way, but bigger. The world is bigger and better looking. The party is more diverse and there are more options for each character. It still feels the same, though. After a decade of detours, Dragon Quest XI is the game the finally follows up on the game that really got me into the series. With it Western success, Dragon Quest XI feels like the game that Dragon Quest VIII always wanted to be. And really, mostly was.

*For the record: V, IV, VIII, (XI pending completion), IX, I, III, VI, VII, II

Now Playing January 2019

Beaten

Etrian Odyssey V – read about it here.

Pillars of Eternity & The White March – As a big fan of Black Isle studios rpgs, I backed the Pillars of Eternity kickstarter way back in 2012. Unfortunately, when the game came out my old laptop was not quite up to the task of running it. So I let the game languish in my steam library for the last couple of years. Over Christmas, I realized that not only did I have a computer capable of running the game, I also had the time to play it. So installed it, bought the expansion and tried it out.

The game delivered everything I hoped it would. I don’t know that it is quite as good as Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale, but it delivered a substantially similar experience. It took me some time to learn the rules, but once I did everything felt right. The most important part of this sort of game is character creation. Pillars of Eternity gives you a lot of options. The hard part is choosing what direction to go. There is almost always a best choice, either with the goal of min/maxing the game or just choosing a class the fits the best with the rest of the team members you want to use. I went with a dwarven ranger with stag animal companion. I also tried out a chanter. On an initial playthrough, the game seems to have done a solid job of balancing the need for physical fighters and various spellcasters. The weakness is that there is no rogue party member without the White March expansion. You can get trapfinding abilities without being a rogue, but rogue do get an advantage there and aren’t pulled in different directions like mages. You can make extra party members to fill in gaps, but they won’t have personalities like the game’s premade companions.

The place where I at first found the game lacking but some came to see as a strength is its array of party members. The first two it hands out are Aloth and Eder, seem a little disappointing. They aren’t really exciting characters initially. I never really warmed to Aloth’s gimmick. But Eder’s gimmick is essentially that he doesn’t have one. He just this laconic fighter who occasionally drops in witty, wry comments. As the game went on, doing his character quest and otherwise, he developed into one of my favorite characters in the game. Mostly because he could have normal reactions to things while also occasionally having something interesting to say. No one is likely to find all the characters interesting, but on the whole they are largely well written and well developed. Aside from Eder, I greatly enjoyed adventuring with the proud Paladin Pallegina, and the dwarven ranger Sagani (having another ranger with my player character also being a ranger kind of limited options, but I liked her). I also used Hiravias quite a bit. The only character I didn’t warm to at all was Cana Rua, and honestly I didn’t truly give him a chance. And the new characters of the White March fit in surprisingly well. Even the robot character. I found Zahua’s backstory surprisingly effective and I really enjoyed Maneha’s general vibe.

I guess I’ve had good luck. Nearly all the kickstarter games I backed delivered. I am glad I backed this one. This game is excellent.

Zack & Wiki: The Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure – read about it here.

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King – read about it here.

Ongoing

Celeste – I am so close to the end on this. It is such a good game. I have played a lot of hard platformers, but I don’t think I’ve played one that is as devious as this game is and that trains its players how to beat it. You can point to the first stage of Super Mario Bros for a beginners guide for teaching a player how to deal with obstacles in a game and many games follow a similar progression, Celeste uses those tool more effectively than most. It is aided in this by its friendly to lives and respawning. The game all but encourages the player to try things out, because the penalty for death is so small. That small penalty makes it less frustrating when the game is really hard. It reminds me a lot of 1001 Spikes, a game I love.

Dragon Quest 11 – I got this for Christmas, and through the first fifteen or so hours it is everything I could possibly want out of a new Dragon Quest game. I like my party, half-formed as it is at this point. I love the way Dragon Quest tells its stories through vignettes that are largely self-contained but manage to advance the central story in small ways. Functionally, this game is not much different from Dragon Quest V. The change is almost entirely visual and this game looks astounding. I am sure those who are more technically minded could point out flaws and compromises in this game’s visuals, I see what looks like a near perfect realization of Akira Toriyama’s designs as 3D figures. I could see people complaining about the lack of innovation here, but I have no problem with a game effectively executing a formula so long as it is a good formula, and Dragon Quest’s formula is one of the best.

Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon – I cleared the first few missions on this. For some reason it has a bad habit of closing itself and kicking me back to the home menu. Maybe I am holding the 3DS oddly and hitting the power button. Whatever is happening, it is frustrating. This is fine so far, but it is getting kicked back down the queue as soon as Etrian Odyssey Nexus is released.

 

Upcoming

Etrian Odyssey Nexus – This comes out early next month and will take over my 3DS for the foreseeable future. Honestly, this is feeling as much like a farewell to playing new games on my trusty old handheld as much a farewell to this series that is likely ending with that handheld. Good night, sweet prince, et cetera, et cetera.

Disney’s Epic Mickey – My ongoing quest to finish up some old Wii games that have been sitting around half finished comes to this almost classic. I liked this game just fine a decade ago, but I got distracted before finishing it. Epic Mickey doesn’t want for ambition, I’ll say that at least.

Beyond Good and Evil – an online game club I am a part of is playing this game. I intend to dig out my copy and spend some time with it in the next few weeks. Maybe I’ll beat it, I don’t remember it being that long.

Etrian Odyssey V

The Etrian Odyssey series is one of my favorites of the last ten years. I have spent a lot of time with my 3DS methodically mapping out dungeons while trekking ever deeper in the their dangerous unknown. I was greatly anticipating Etrian Odyssey V last fall. Then I played it for a handful of hours and put it aside. As I picked it back up and played through it recently, I realized my lack of enthusiasm was because this is a lesser entry in the series.

Most Etrian Odyssey games have a moment when it all clicks; when the party fits together and you have a strategy for taking on a dungeon. I put this down just before I hit that point, when I realized that I was going to get the bulk of my damage out of my Pugilist and the synergy between the Fencer and Warlock, while my Botanist was going for pure healing instead of status effects. But even at that point, the game didn’t really click. I pushed through and enjoyed it, but nothing about this game really stood out. The classes are interesting. Pugilist is one of my favorite classes I’ve encountered, but none of the rest really did much for me. It seemed to take a lot of set up to get most of them going and I don’t really like fiddly classes. Pugilist, a hand to hand fighter class that powers up based on HP shenanigans, is really easy to use and has a great risk/reward mechanic. Otherwise, they classes left no impact. The same is true of the different dungeon stratums, which were either nothing new, all but the third stratum, or new but not especially interesting, like the third strata’s graveyard. It is the motions of the series, but nothing to really make it interesting.

Etrian Odyssey V’s big innovation are its races, but while they add quite bit if customization to the characters, it ends up being largely unnecessary and I honestly forgot about it for much of the game. There are Earthian, Celestrian, Therian and Brouni. They roughly translate to traditional fantasy races, humans, elves, and dwarves, with the Therian’s being the only ones who don’t. They are rabbit people. The Celestrians make good mages, Therians deal a lot of damage, Earthian’s are good all around. There is a lot to consider, but the game doesn’t require it at all. At first the races are restricted to specific classes, but eventually you get the ability to reclass. It rarely makes sense to do so, because a race’s stats are generally closely aligned with their initial classes. Its neat, but unnecessary.

For the most part, the game just feels kind of rote. It doesn’t do anything memorable or interesting. EOIV had the world map, with multiple little dungeons instead of one big one. EO3 had story choice and the sailing mini-game. The first game had originality going for it, and the Untold games had the novelty of a set party. This game is just fine. It doesn’t do anything necessarily wrong, but it doesn’t really do anything interesting either. I enjoyed this outing well enough, but it is one of the last entries in the series I would turn to for a fix in the future.

I thought this was going to be the last Etrian Odyssey on the 3DS, but Atlus has announced Etrian Odyssey Nexus, which is likely to be the series swan song, at least in it current incarnation. While the first Etrian Odyssey hit a little further into the DS’s life than I remembered, (it came out in 2007, more than two and half years after the DS) this series was always one that seemed like a backbone of the system. Etrian Odyssey was certainly never a big seller, but when I think of the DS, it comes to mind, along with Phoenix Wright and Trauma Center. While Trauma Center has kind of disappeared and Phoenix Wright comes and goes, Etrian Odyssey has been there all along. A new game every other year or so, no big changes to the formula, just new classes and new dungeons and new adventures. I am glad I get that one more time and I hope it is more inspired than this one was.

Zack and Wiki

I’m not sure if I’ve written about this before, but before I started this blog, I had a plan to have one hundred posts ready to go before I started. I made a list of everything I wanted to cover, all of the movies, TV shows, comics and games that I wanted to write about. At least, the list of things I wanted to cover in early 2010. I didn’t complete that list, because I realized that if I tried to stick to my hundred articles I would never start posting. So I put the list away and just wrote about what interested me whenever I had the time. Recently, I found my list of proposed articles. It was kind of surprising, seeing what I thought I wanted to write about a decade ago and can’t understand why. (I guess I thought I had something to say about Chuck and According to Jim? I’m not sure what my intended angle was) It also is filled with things I truly wanted to write about and have never gotten around to do so. So I am going to make an effort to cover the remaining items on the list, even the odd ones if I can find something to say about them. (I feel like I’ve written this post before, but I’m not sure I posted it.)

I am starting with one of the games on my list, the only one that really hasn’t stood the the test of time: Zack & Wiki: The Quest for Barbaros Treasure. I know why this game was on my list. Even in 2010 this game was already sinking into obscurity. That felt wrong to me; I was annoyed that this charming, solid adventure was being washed away as another piece of Wii shovelware. I fired it up just after Christmas and even a more than a decade later, it remains charming. There are some flaws, but for the most part Zack & Wiki remains an enjoyable way to spend six to eight hours.

Zack & Wiki is essentially a point and click adventure game. Using the wii remote as a pointer, the player moves Zack around the stages and solves puzzles. Zack himself is little more than a blank avatar, but Wiki, his flying metallic monkey friend, has several skills. By shaking the wii-remote Zack shakes Wiki like a bell. This draws attention from big enemies. It also turns most enemies into items that can be used around the map. Frogs turn into bombs, pirate goons turn into blocks that can be moved around, snakes can be turned into a grapper to get hard to reach items. Most of the puzzles are built around that ability. There are some keys and levers and the like, but mostly it comes down to finding enemies, turning them into items and using them where appropriate. The hardest part of the game is that you have to do things in the proper order, frequently without being able to tell what the proper order is before you do things.

That is where the big flaw with this game comes in. This is a game the requires experimentation, but the scoring system punishes experimentation. You can also get stuck, where the only option is to give up and start over, even if you only need to move back one step or two. Or if you are at the end of an hour long stage. It would take a very small change to make for a significantly smoother experience.

Graphically, it seems to take a lot of its inspiration from Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. It has that same sort of cel-shaded cartoon look. The games look remarkable similar, which is far from a bad thing, though it is worth noting that this game probably looks slightly worse than Wind Waker and came out nearly a half a decade after that game. The look of the game is a draw, even though it creates some confusion. It looks like a kids cartoon, and the largely charming antics of the Calvin & Hobbes-esque titular duo reinforce that kiddy appeal. But the game is a fairly difficult puzzler. This is not a game that kids will likely have a lot of success.

Still, the cast is undeniably charming. Zack with his oversized pirate hat and generally troublemaking ways. The rest of the crew of the Sea Rabbits, who are more than a little reminiscent of Tetra’s crew from Wind Waker, are largely amusing. Then there are the villains, from the Rose Rock pirates, a group of incompetent goons and their mean anime girl leader Captain Rose. Each area of the game has some obstacles, from a group of furry goblins to the cutest possible baby dragon. The look of the game is simply charming. There is a story, but there isn’t a lot there.

In a lot of ways, Zack & Wiki is about the perfect Wii game. It is a game that would be easy to move off the system, but since much of the puzzle solving is done with motion controls a lot of the appeal would be left behind. It feels like it should have been the start of long running series, but sales prevented that. I am glad I found the excuse to play it again.

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.

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.