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.

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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.

Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology

When this game came out the first time, way back in 2011, I thought it was one of the best original rpgs to hit the DS. I found that it drew elements from a lot of games that I loved, from Chrono Trigger to Final Fantasy Tactics to Final Fantasy X, to make a game that felt simultaneously classic and original. This enhanced port, while fixing some of the game’s flaws, also manages to draw more attention to some of the structural problems the game has.

Perfect Chronology makes few big changes to the core of the game. It adds some new character art that is largely not an improvement. That is to be expected. Mostly what it adds are a lot of balance tweaks. The original game was not exactly smooth when it came to a lot of things. There were weird humps in the level curve and in enemy strengths and equipment costs. This remake does a lot to fix those mostly very slight problems. In my limited experience, the changes do a lot to just make the game simply play better. Most of what I said originally still stands.

My ability to accurately describe the changes to the game in detail is limited because I played it on Friendly mode. The difficulty levels are another new addition to this version and I choose the easiest one. Mostly because I had already played the game in its original form, this time I just wanted to take a tour of the game and be reminded of why I initially liked it so much. Which is what Friendly difficulty provides. It basically turns the battle system into just boss and scripted battles, which are easier than they normally are. If you just want to get the experience and story, it works just fine. If you really want to see what the game has to offer, I would not recommend it.

The new story stuff largely based about new character Nemissa, who possesses a new tome that controls alternate histories. Mostly these work as little side-stories of scenes you know from playing, and replaying, them in the main game. Eventually, completing them leads the way to alternate endings for a lot of the characters in the main game. That is where the new stuff really falters. Most of Radiant Historia’s cast is not exactly nuanced. There are some complex and thoughtful characters, but those aren’t the ones who get new stuff in this game. And the games doesn’t really flesh them out, it just adds discordant codas to what was already there. Take, for instance, the vain, incompetent Queen Protea. She is an out and out monster, ordering her own capitol city burned to root out members of the resistance. After a brief adventure in an alternate history where Protea is not a tyrannical puppet queen, but a major player in the resistance, the party gets a way to remind her of who she once was and her ending now has leaving the throne for a life of quiet repentance. That is probably the least objectionable new outcome for the villains, who get redemption without earning it. So the new story content is not great.

Radiant Historia was initially released in the fading days of the Nintendo DS. The 3DS was on the horizon and piracy had pretty well hollowed out the systems support. A great game disappeared pretty quickly after it was dropped into an ecosystem that would have been completely dead if not for the fact that Nintendo insisted on propping it up with some late Pokemon games. Now it gets a chance for release on a system … in much the same situation. I think the 3DS is a little healthier at this point in its life than the DS was when Radiant Historia released, if only because there is no successor on the horizon, but it isn’t enough the make a big difference.

Now Playing July 2018

Beaten

New Super Mario Bros U – I finally finished it up. I should have a post ready to go up soon. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this, which says a lot when I went in expecting to enjoy it.

Pokemon Ultra Sunread review here.

Ongoing

River City Knights of Justice – I had a long car ride and I had finished Pokemon and hit a snag on the next game I am trying to work through (see below), so I fired up River City Knights of Justice, the beat-em-up from a couple years ago that was a spin off River City Ransom, maybe my favorite game of all time, and set in a fantasy world. It is fine, but somehow also completely unsatisfying. It shouldn’t take me long to finish this, I think I am nearing the end, and will post my complete thoughts on the game somehow next month.

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers – I don’t know if I ever posted it, but I started something about the giant stack of unbeaten Shin Megami Tensei games I have sitting around a couple of years ago and was planning to make a genuine effort to beat them. Since then, I think I’ve beaten two of them, including the newly released Persona 5. The games in this mega-series tend to be long and challenging, not something that a person can just play. But I pulled this out while searching around for a new to play on my 3DS. While I am only three or four hours into it, I like it so far. It is clearly a much earlier game in the series than what I am used to, so plenty of the streamlining that has made the games more playable are not present here. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, just a little more cumbersome than most 3DS games. It is definitely a SMT game. You recruit demons and fight through first person dungeons. The odd thing here is that the main character doesn’t have any magic. Which means that the magic stat for him is all but useless and cutting down build possibilities for the one character you get to make choices about down to nil. Still, so far it has been a good time, though I frequently I am not sure exactly where it wants me to go.

Suikoden V – I made a little progress and another post is coming about this game. I love this game.

Upcoming

Super Mario Galaxy – I started this up again a few months ago, but I intend to speed through this sooner rather than later.

Yakuza – Probably Yakuza 0, but I’ve also got Kiwami and 6 ready to go. I plan to get my PS4 back from my brother, after only 9 months, and I’m itching for the unique menacing goofiness of the Yakuza series.

Pokemon Ultra Sun

I am going to link to my review of Pokemon Moon, because it is largely the same game as this. For the first time since Pokemon Platinum, Nintendo has trotted out one of their incremental updates. I guess to be fair, this might be closer to Pokemon Black & White 2 than Platinum or the GBA’s Emerald, but it is definitely more of an update than sequel. So I don’t have a lot to add from what I already wrote about the first release of this game.

If I remember the story of Pokemon Moon correctly, which is no sure thing because the story of Pokemon games is not the sort of thing that sticks in my mind, the changes to the plot in Pokemon Ultra Sun mostly exist to close off what appeared to be sequel hooks. Instead of open ended semi-conclusions, the game now tells a full story. Like the original game, the story takes up more of the game than most Pokemon games, but now at least it is a complete experience.

As usual, the roster of available monster is much expanded. It is almost too much, which is in no way an actual problem. Even on the first of Alola’s four islands you can build a varied and effective team. Personally, I love that the game makes Hawlucha, objectively the best Pokemon, available very early in the game. It is a big change from Pokemon Crystal, which I recently played and thought the game held most of the interesting Pokemon to the second half of the game. (Or maybe just put them out in the daytime, because I could only play at night.) Ultra Sun gives the player access to Pokemon of almost every type within the first quarter of the game.

I wish I had more to say about this, but I really don’t. It hits right in a blindspot for me. I want to say that it is just because it is so much like the original Pokemon Sun & Moon. However, I don’t remember that game well enough to articulate how it is similar and how it is different. Maybe I don’t remember it well enough to comment on it similarity to its predecessor. So I am just going to leave it at this; Pokemon Ultra Sun is a familiar and delightful game. Finally, it is the part where I make some vague resolution to do post game stuff or complete the pokedex or something. That isn’t happening any time soon. I am going back to the growing stack of unbeaten 3DS games I have and trying to whittle it down some. Maybe put some serious time into Etrian Odyssey V.

Now Playing June 2018

Beaten

Pokemon Crystal – I did beat it. I really don’t like Gen 2 Pokemon, as I said last month. The level curve is all over the place. The last few gyms are all really close together, with little difference in the levels needed to beat them, before the Elite 4 makes a big jump. The available Pokemon, especially early, are underwhelming. I admit that complaint is mostly about personal preference. In Gen 1 you can find something interesting to complement your starter pretty early, like a Mankey or Nidoran. Here, I was stuck using useless cruft for about four towns. THat has something to do with the games day night cycle, an excellent idea that doesn’t work when the only chance you have to play is for 30 minutes before going to bed.

Despite all of my complaints, there is still something magical about the end of this game, of getting to what appears to be the end, only to have the map of the first game open up to the player and a whole new set of gyms to conquer. No Pokemon game since has managed that, and I can’t quite figure out why not. Pokemon Crystal is a worthy piece of the series history that I am glad I played and am glad to no longer be playing.

Ongoing

Pokemon Ultra Sun – Beating a somewhat unsatisfying Pokemon game convinced me, for some reason, to buy a different Pokemon game. I forgot how chatty these latest Pokemon games are, but in every other way it is just such an improvement over what has come before. There have been so many quality of life improvement since Gen 2, like reusable TMs of getting rid of HMs. I do kind of miss the usual gym structure and I think I may have made the smart choice skipping this after having played Moon when it was released, but this is a good game.

Suikoden V – I haven’t really pushed much further than the opening, but I am still really enjoying the time I get to spend with this game. It is an underrated classic. I really miss this sort of mid grade JRPG.

Upcoming

Super Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Bros U – If I ever have time, I am going to get back to my replay of the series.

SNES Classic – I also hope to get some time to play with Christmas gift at some point.

Suikoden V: Opening

I am replaying Suikoden V; it seems impossible to me that this game is more than a decade old. I’ve recently been looking back on the PS2 era very fondly as I find myself increasingly out of sync with modern video games. It seems more and more that the games I like are on the margins of the gaming landscape and are slowly but surely disappearing. This feels odd to say with games I love, like Breath of the Wild and Monster Hunter World selling tons of copies, but those are more the exception than the rule. Over the last decade or so my interests have slowly but surely faded from prominence. Alternatively, maybe the stuff I liked was never really that popular. The Suikoden series, and Suikoden V in particular, are perfect examples of that. I consider Suikoden II to be on of the greatest games ever made, and while it is well regarded, it was always rare enough that many people haven’t even heard of it, let alone played it. The series seemed on the verge of breaking out in the PS2 era, but by the time Suikoden V was released in 2006 the PS3 was coming fast and a backwards looking game like it was almost perfectly designed to be ignored by the zeitgeist. Which it was; the game is more of a footnote for the series and the genre than anything else and I have long found that to be a great injustice.

Suikoden V is an awkward game that doesn’t get a lot of love. It tries to turn back to what people loved about Suikoden II after the largely disliked fourth entry in the series, but managed to feel cheap, untested, and unfinished. Still, there is a lot about the game that I genuinely love. I plan to write a lot about it; I have at least three posts planned as I work my way leisurely through the game and am likely to expand that to five or so. This post is going to be about probably the most maligned part of the game; its long, slow opening. Suikoden V does start slowly; depending on how one counts it, the game doesn’t really start for about 5 hours. On this playthrough it took me nearly 7 hours to get past the coup that serves as the game’s inciting incident. However, I think that becomes one of the game’s strengths as it goes along.

I have never been an opponent of games with slow openings. I will get into arguments with people who judge Zelda’s based on how long the games takes to give the player a sword. (Skyward Sword is mad underrated) Especially in the context of story heavy JRPGs, I think games that take few hours to set the table for a 70 hour game are usually using the player’s time wisely. I will point to the Persona series for games that do this well. A lot of Persona 4 happens before the player gets to the dungeon crawling. I don’t think any game does it much better than Suikoden V though. Yes, it takes more than half a dozen hours before the game puts the player in control of the usual Suikoden stuff like planning big battles and recruiting the members for the army. But those first few hours are not without their fair share of interesting gameplay and all of the story and character stuff it sets up makes the rest of the game all the more interesting.

There are essentially three parts to Suikoden V’s opening; a trip to survey the demolished town of Lordlake, the Sacred Games to choose the princess’s spouse and the trip to the sacred springs for a pre-marriage ritual. Each of these impart important knowledge on the player. The first shows how powerful the protagonist’s mother, Queen Arshtat, is with her Sun Rune. It shows the power she wields, or how that power wields her. It also lets the player know that something is wrong. Then there are the Sacred games, which more fully flesh out the political situation in the Queendom of Falena. It shows how the systems are corrupt and backwards, as well as how effective the eventual villains, the Godwins, are at manipulating things. Then there is the trip to the baths that is more character focused. It shows how much many people around the royal family have sacrificed to effect even a small change on the status quo, a change that is currently on the verge of disappearing. And after that, the game kicks into high gear.

These hours of set up are necessary to make the game work. If the game doesn’t give the player the opportunity to see the protagonist’s family and how they relate, then the loss of that family would have no sting. It is vital that players see how the Prince interacts with his sister the heir, with his mother and father, with the various members of the Queen’s Guards, including his ever present bodyguard Lyon. You meet the womanizing Kyle, the playful Miakis, the cold Zahhak and the nakedly ambitious Alenia. The core cast really makes it all work. There is the protagonist the Prince. He is always joined by Lyon, his young bodyguard who is soon revealed to have a mysterious past that Ferid, the Queen’s husband and father of the protagonist, saved her from. Then there is newcomer and all around badass Georg Prime, who’s amazing skills and lack of familiarity with the country each serve a purpose. And lastly is the Prince’s aunt, Sialeeds, who alternates between carefree playfulness and sardonic bitterness. Knowing what Sialeeds (more on her in a later post) has given up makes events that happen 30 or so hours down the line feel all the more tragic and inevitable.

It is not like the player is not playing the game at the time. Yes, the game gives the player no control over the party or any real access to the word map, but there are three or so dungeons in those first few hours and the protagonist should end it around level 20. It also introduces players to close to a quarter of the game’s extensive cast. (This is Suikoden, with its 108 Stars of Destiny) What makes it feel not a lot like really playing is that this is the largest portion of the game that gives the player access to Georg, one of the stars of the game and a brokenly badass fighter. He is unfairly good in combat, and seeing him make short work of every enemy you come across does a lot to sell him as the ultimate badass that he is, but it also means the fights don’t have a lot punch, as he can make short work of anything.

The game could have artlessly told the player these things; that is essentially how Suikoden I operated. That game got by on brevity; it can be completed in little more than a dozen hours. Suikoden V is attempting (I would say succeeding) in telling a story with more depth and nuance. It achieves that depth by slowly introducing the player to the world and the important characters in the drama to come. I can see how it could be off putting for new players, but anyone who sticks with the game through it is in for a treat.