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.

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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.

Layton’s Mystery Journey

I’ve played all the Professor Layton games, and reviewed several of them on this blog.  In the abstract I think really highly of this series, but as I was putting together my thoughts on this one, I went back and read what I had written about the last three games in the series, including Professor Layton Vs Phoenix Wright, I realized that I had similar complaints about those games to the ones I have with this game.

I still don’t like the split between tapping the bottom screen and the cursor on the top screen, the game feels padded out, with puzzles spread far too thin, and I don’t think those puzzles are as good as the used to be.  The new complaint with Layton’s Mystery Journey is that now the story is purely episodic and of the game’s 12 episodes, only about three of them feel like they really matter. While I mostly enjoyed my time with the game, when I finished I was really ready to be done with it.  After a few days to cool off, I feel a little more fondness for the game, though I think that this is the first time my annoyances finally outweighed my enjoyment.

I’ve complained about my problems with the cursor before and I still have them.  It is makes me a little nauseous managing that split between top and bottom screens. I’ve complained about the length before.  I’ll have to go back and check the DS games, but this feels like a 12 hour game stretched out to take nearly 20.  With Layton v Wright, I complained about the puzzles, but I thought it was just because that game was a spin off. The puzzles here feel imprecise.  They aren’t perfectly crafted to make you think or mess with you assumptions, these just feel imprecise.  Sometimes the wording is so vague it nearly impossible to tell what the puzzle is.  There are still plenty of good puzzles, but there are way too many weak or simply bad ones.

The story is the other big problem.  The structure fails this game utterly.  If there was an initial mystery that lead to all the other cases it would have felt like a real story, but instead it just introduces a bunch of characters before moving to a toothless epic final showdown.  It does start with a pair of mysteries, one involving the disappearance of Professor Layton and the other having to do with Sherl, the talking dog that shows up at new protagonist Katrielle’s shop.  Those mysteries are not dealt with at all.  Professor Layton is gone, as are all the characters from the previous 6 games, and Katrielle has a talking dog. Instead of dealing with either of them, you spend most of the game solving non-mysteries for the police, with a few good ones mixed.

I don’t really have a problem with change in cast, it was time for a refresh, but other than changing out the cast, the only change this made to the series was a downgrade in puzzle quality. This is still largely the same game as the last few in the series, but the returns are really diminishing now. I hope the next game gets things back on track.

Ever Oasis

Ever Oasis, the new 3DS action RPG from Grezzo and Nintendo, is a perfect summer game. It is breezy and bright and cheery. It is great for pulling out to play for twenty or thirty minutes before putting it away for the day or even the week. That makes it sound kind of slight and forgettable, but it is really just perfectly bite sized. It is a rather simple game, but that mostly works in its favor, with the games charm resting in its simplicity.

I previously compared it to Dark Cloud 2 and that comparison fits in the broad strokes. They are both action rpgs with some light dungeon puzzles and city building sim elements. But Dark Cloud is a big, meaty, complex game. It has giant dungeons to explore, several deep character building systems and involved town building sections. It does a lot of thing and does them well. While the game never really clicked for me, I am never surprised when someone tells me that it is a favorite. Ever Oasis offers a lot of the same things, but in this game they are simplified to be almost immediately graspable. There is some weapon building, but it is almost entirely linear. You use weaker weapons to forge stronger weapons, there is nothing like the complex weapons trees of Dark Cloud 2. The dungeons are compact, with easily understandable puzzles and most use the same few tools over and over. And the town building is as simple as placing buildings in a line. I could see some people craving more depth than Ever Oasis has to offer, but it gave me a taste of things I love in games without ever overwhelming me.

I don’t know that Dark Cloud was actually that much of an influence here. The same is true of the other PS2 RPG that it brought to mind, Radiata Stories. Ever Oasis feels like those games, but I can see stronger DNA from The Legend of Zelda, Grezzo previously remade the N64 games for the 3DS, and Secret of Mana, whose creator worked on this as well. It really feels like a synthesis of those two games, with some light town building thrown on top.

As breezy and charming as I found the game, there are parts that don’t work. The biggest problem is that the puzzle solving skills are tied to specific villagers in your oasis. Since you always have the protagonists in your 3 person party, you better hope you don’t encounter more than two types of puzzles that you need to solve. Yes, you can warp back to the oasis with the press of a button, but that takes time away from exploring. Also, some of the town business can grow tedious having to do it every day, despite how much can be automated.

For the most part, though, the game’s charms shine through. It is helped along by bright, cheery graphics and some solid music. It is just fun to be in the world of this game. The actually fighting and exploring mechanics, while simple, are satisfying. The camera is better than most games of this sort, mostly because it uses fixed perspectives. And the story, while mostly a bright and sunny adventure, makes an excellent turn to bittersweet at the end. It isn’t too heavy or crushing, but it does finally show a little weight.

Ever Oasis isn’t a great game, but it is good enough at a enough things to be worth a look. This is a game destined to show up years from now on underrated and overlooked games lists, much like Radiata Stories and Dark Cloud 2. These sorts of games don’t really come around often enough, and I’m glad Nintendo took a chance on this in the waning days of the 3DS.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valentia

A new Fire Emblem game is out and even though over the last year I played what was essentially 3 new Fire Emblem games – each of Fates campaigns, Birthright, Conquest, Revelation, are full games – I was still really pumped for this one.  Hold on, I mean I played 4 Fire Emblem games, because I completely blanked on Fire Emblem Heroes on my phone, though maybe that is a good thing.  The point remains that I will take all of this series that Nintendo is offering, while they are offering it, because I don’t know when it might disappear again.  Still, with the Fates trilogy being a little bit of a letdown, with its fractured storyline making each of its three campaigns feel compromised in some way, the back to basics promise of the Fire Emblem Echoes, a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden for the famicom, sounded like a good idea.

Fire Emblem Echoes is the truest of mixed bags.  It does some things that I absolutely love, but it also does just as many things that frustrate me. On the plus side is pretty much everything outside of the specific mechanics of this take on Fire Emblem.  On the negative side are some of those mechanics. Or lack of mechanics.

It really is the best looking 3D game in the series.  I have long been a partisan of the GBA game’s beautiful 2D sprites as they dance through their attack animations.  None of the 3D games have been able to match those for looks. While they have gotten progressively better, but it wasn’t until this game that I thought that they had equaled the GBA games.  I also prefer the character designs in Echoes to any the series has had in quite some time. They feel like character designs from the era this game originated, with some slight modernization, but not the pure modern aesthetic of Fates or Awakening. The animations are also top notch, with plenty of unique animations for the game’s characters, a touch that really helps bring out the personality in some characters that could otherwise feel somewhat flat. This is just a great looking 3DS game.  I also like the return to a less comprehensive support system, with the pair up mechanic being completely gone.  I didn’t mind those pair up mechanics in Awakening or Fates. They changed the game significantly, but once I got used to how they worked it became second nature.  However, playing this game without them kind reinforces how unnecessary they are.  The strategy here just feels more pure, with your units better able to fulfill their roles.  The role of character supports is also scaled back.  A big part of the last two games has been seeing those supports for as many of your warriors as possible.  This game cuts back on the number of possible supports and makes them less important overall. They are there to flesh out the characters.  There is no marriage/child mechanic, which is more than fine.  I like that idea, and Awakening did good work with it.  But it felt forced in Fates and it really didn’t need to be added here.  If they go back to that in the future, I hope we get a full generational game, instead of a weird work around.

I have some minor complaints with parts of the game, like how one set of units seems to have uniformly dreadful growth rates or that the third person dungeons seemed unnecessary, but mostly I liked.  Still there are two things that stood out to me as flaws.  Fire Emblem Echoes mostly did a great job removing the cruft that had built up on this series, I think it went a bit too far.  While I think this is true to the original version of this game, I really felt the absence of the weapon triangle. Without that, parts of the game devolved into throwing magic users against non-magic enemies and regular fighters against the mages.  There is no nuance to it; it turned kind of simplistic. I also felt the lack of varied map and win conditions.   While Fates, Revelation especially, went overboard with the gimmick maps, something other than kill all enemies would have been appreciated here.  Just a few battles with survive or escape or capture would have helped spice things up quite a bit.  Those aren’t deal breaker problems, but they were big enough faults to keep from holding the game in the same regard as I do for the first few Fire Emblem games I played.

Last but not least is the story.  I was not a big fan of the story in any version of Fates and really haven’t loved the story of a Fire Emblem game since the Radiant duo.  Echoes is a fleshing out of an NES game’s story, but I greatly enjoyed it. Some developments are abrupt, but none are as nonsensical as most of Fates storyline was. I liked being in control of two separate armies, each with their storyline to play through but not being locked into one story or the other. I see how much this game influenced Sacred Stones, another series oddball.  I am glad this weird entry in the series got a remake and I am glad it is so much better than the remake the original Fire Emblem got for the DS.

Dragon Quest VIII 3DS

I think I had kind of forgotten how important Dragon Quest VIII was to me until I played the 3DS remake.  I always remembered liking the game well enough, slotting it somewhere in the middle of the series when rating my enjoyment of them.  I liked it better than the primitive DQ1 or the grindy DQ2 or DQ6, which I just don’t much care for, but I didn’t consider it a favorite like DQ 4 or 5 or even 9.  It just wasn’t a game I thought much about. Playing the 3DS port/remake, which improves the game in several ways but is also hampered enough by technical issues to not be strictly the definitive version, really brought back how much I liked that game.

During what in hindsight appears to be something of a Golden Age during the heart of the PS2/GC/XBOX days, I largely drifted out of gaming.  I owned a GameCube, but despite a steady stream of solid games, between Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker near the start of 2003 and Resident Evil 4 in early 2005, which was the last new GameCube game I bought before I got a PS2, I played maybe 5 new games. I bought Viewtiful Joe and Tales of Symphonia for myself, got Skies of Arcadia Legends and Lord of The Rings: Return of the King for Christmas, and my brother and I went in together to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Most of those are great games.  Viewtiful Joe and Skies of Arcadia Legends are among my all-time favorites. Return of the King was a great co-op experience during Winter Break, but I have neither the time nor inclination to revisit it and see if it holds up.  Tales of Symphonia was the right game at the right time in the summer of 2004. And Crystal Chronicles is at the very least interesting.  While those were some great games, and there were plenty of great games hitting the GC and other systems, I found myself less and less interested. While the RPGs in that list took some time to play, none of the others are all that lengthy. Some of my disinterest is could be down to the GC not really having the RPGs that really interested me at the time, but I didn’t really feel a pull to get a PS2, where those games could be found. At least, I didn’t until I saw FFXII on the horizon.

The inexorable pull of Final Fantasy XII was enough to get me to finally take the plunge on a PS2. Since that game was the primary pull for me to get the system, before it was released late in 2006, I picked up a copy of Dragon Quest VIII, which came with a FFXII demo disc. I was interested, though not exactly excited, to play Dragon Quest VIII. The only game in the series I had played was Dragon Warrior on NES and while I had fond memories of it, I hadn’t played it in a decade or so.  Dragon Quest 8 was a JRPG, which I like, with an appealing graphical style not unlike that in Wind Waker.  I wasn’t ready for how much I would enjoy it.

The essence of the 3DS remake of DQ8 is the same as the PS2 original.  That game charmed me with its aesthetics and is back to basics approach to the JRPG.  Most of the games of that genre that I love emphasize a sense of adventure over strictly mechanical or storytelling concerns.  That is why I love Skies of Arcadia and Lunar.  While no Dragon Quest games are strictly complex, DQ8 rolls its mechanics back to the basics.  There is a tiny amount of character customization, but otherwise the game is very simple.  Neither is the story particularly innovative or original.  It has a silent protagonist on a quest to save a princess, join by a trio of like-minded companions. That shouldn’t be the recipe for a beloved classic, but DQ8 shines in the execution of its very simple adventure.  

One thing the game did better than any game before it how well it realized a world.  Other PS2 games, like Final Fantasy X, eliminated the overworld in favor of linear pathways to follow.  Dragon Quest 8 went the other way, creating a full sized world for the player to explore.  Better than any other jrpg I had ever played, Dragon Quest 8 made me feel like I was in the world of the game.  That feeling is greatly helped by its excellent graphics, which helps create a cohesive world.

 

The simple story, the impetuous for exploring the game’s excellent world, doesn’t work without solid characters and that is another area where the game shines. Both its playable and non-playable characters a delightful and memorable.  Jessica and Angelo are simply well executed stock genre characters. Like the game itself, they break little new ground, but are perfect for what they are.  Yangus, though, is the real star, with his cockney accent and general scruffiness.  His interactions with King Trode are a constant delight. The 3DS adds his sometimes paramour Red as a playable characters, and she is likewise a lot of fun. Then there are the characters that make up the casts in each town the player visits.  There are too many to mention.

Something about this game’s back to basics approach, stripping the genre down to its essence and concentrating on the presentation just worked for me, both in 2007 and in 2017. Back then, I was hoping that the forward thinking, groundbreaking Final Fantasy XII would be the game to make me love playing video games again. But Dragon Quest VIII isn’t the most complex game or the most original, but it is a perfectly executed take on the genre.

Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest

As soon as I finished up Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright I downloaded and started playing Conquest. After about three or four missions, I hit my limit on that unique to Fire Emblem blend of anguish, frustration and triumph and switched over to something else. I love Fire Emblem, but at a certain point I need to take some time to recharge. Coming back after that, I gained a greater appreciation for Conquest.

Honestly, the differences on the gameplay side between Conquest and Birthright were overblown. The lack of extra missions is a small loss; it is not like I took much advantage of that in Birthright. There are some differences, but the experiences are closer than they are different. The two biggest gameplay differences are what made Conquest the superior experience for me.

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The first is that it uses more traditional Fire Emblem character classes. Birthright threw me off with its changed up weapons and classes. Those changes were largely superficial, like calling axes clubs and the like, but it was enough to throw me off occasionally. Conquest sticking with Cavaliers and Knights instead of Samurai made everything just that much more comfortable for me. I do enjoy seeing Intelligent Systems change things up with the classes, but for a long time series veteran it was a barrier. The mixing of those different classes is what gives Fates its unique feel in the series, that the world is larger and more varied than the world of the previous games. Still, when it comes down to personal preference, I like the older stuff.

The other, more important difference is the variety of mission objectives. Birthright only has one type of mission, Rout the Enemy. You kill all the enemies on the map before they kill you. Conquest gets back to a more traditional Fire Emblem array of mission objectives. There are Kill the Boss missions, Survival missions, Escape, among others. That is where Conquest gains its complexity and maybe a slight decrease in difficulty. I might actually argue it makes things easier, having maps where a suicide run against a boss can end the whole mission rather than having to wipe out the army. Still, the variety makes for more interesting tactical decisions. Some units might be strictly better at killing enemies than others, but a survival mission adds greater importance to units that can tank, like Knights. When your only goal is to kill all the enemies, then a unit’s ability to kill becomes by far its most important skill. Having those other objectives really lets other units have a chance to shine. Of course, by the end of the game the difference is academic. Everything at that point can kill.

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Where the game falters, though, is with its characters. While their classes might be the usual, the characters that join up in Conquest are a strange lot. To me they are a not exactly appealing lot. That veneer of seediness that Nintendo’s localization team has done their paint over shines through here. These characters often seem deliberately created to appeal to certain subsections of the pervy otaku audience. From the overly suggestive, and frankly stupidly attired, Camilla, to the crassness of Nyx’s “I only look young” routine to whatever the fuck is going on with Charlotte. Even when they aren’t unsettling, the characters are just too weird for their own good. Maybe this was also true of Birthright’s cast, but since I didn’t have other ninjas or samurai to judge them against it was less noticeable, but I don’t think I’m coming out of Conquest with many additions to my list of favorite Fire Emblem characters, other than maybe the imports from Awakening.

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I still maintain that there really isn’t any sensible story related reason to side with Nohr at the choosing point, and playing Conquest hasn’t really changed that. The game jumps through some elaborate hoops to keep the player on the side of good while not disrupting his work for a murderous maniac. Neither game has an especially strong story, that is hopefully reserved for Revelations, but the one in Conquest has some truly absurd leaps of logic. Every character seems willing to acknowledge the problem of King Garon being a crazy murderer, but no one seems willing to even consider taking the steps needed to solve that problem. Or at least not the most direct one.

Still, the improvements to playability in Conquest give it a slight edge over Birthright in my book. I still think Nintendo and IS are crazy for essentially dumping three Fire Emblem games on the world at the same time, but with the video game industry slowly killing everything I love about video games, I’ll take a gift like this any way Nintendo wants to package it. Now it is time for another break before I tackle Revelations.

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

The Mario RPGs, both of Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi sub-brands, tend toward being tedious at times. I love them, but there is no denying it. The Mario & Luigi games tend toward condescending tutorializing and Paper Marios tend to feature funny bits that are just a chore to play. Those are blemishes on otherwise very good games, though the degree to which those flaws derail the experience varies. Nintendo combining the two series was on it’s a terrific idea; it had the potential to be one of the best games of the year, but it also runs the risk of flaws compounding to make one of the most frustrating game experiences imaginable. While Mario & Luigi Paper Jam is not quite the best case scenario, it luckily strays far from the worst case scenario.

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Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is not really a combination of the different stands of Mario RPGs, it is just a Mario & Luigi game with the Paper Mario characters tossed in. That in itself is one of the better gimmicks in the series, less tiresome that Partners in Time’s babies or Dream Team’s dreams. The Paper Mario stuff is just a flavoring added on to the usual M&L goofiness. They didn’t go quite far enough with the paper stuff, but they got some good use out of the paper doppelgangers. It clearly made it easier to come up with enemies, since they could double up on the Mario staples and have to lean less on new, and generally less interesting, original baddies. I would say that the lack of original characters is a flaw, but the only truly interesting character this series has ever come up with is Fawful. Instead, the game just lets the slightly different Bowsers and Peaches play off each other for some really fun scenes.

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Comedy has always been a big part of these games’ appeal. That is true of both Paper Mario and M&L. True comedies are rare in games, and even rarer among RPGs. That fact that these games have been consistently funny over almost ten games. While not all of them have been great games to play, they’ve all brought the same sense of wacky irreverence. The two series combined are maybe funniest yet. This is quite an accomplishment for a games with three protagonists, none of which talk. The best bits are the Bowser parts and the seeing the two Peaches outwit the two Bowser Jrs. It never really strays from the conventional Mario cast, but it does really good work with them. Really, the Paper Mario stuff helps sand down the flaws of the previous M&L game. Dream Team, while not a bad game, was interminable with the tutorials and not especially funny chatter. That is cut down quite a bit in this one. There are still some annoying minigames, but they are less frequent and less onerous.

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Despite all that this game does well, I still can’t quite say that I love it. I’m not really sure why; it addresses almost all of the problems I had with the previous game. It also brings some much needed challenge to the bosses. They might actually go a little too far into difficult. The story doesn’t do anything special, but it is funny and fast moving. It might just be that the addition of Paper Mario to the team is just too much for me to handle. I can’t manage three separate characters as once. Really, it is just as fun as the game is from moment to moment, it all feels belabored and pointless in the end. What Mario is actually doing is never particularly interesting; he is just going through the motions that make up a Mario game; except this time the gameplay is not as outrageously good as it is in the platform games. When it stops being funny it starts being a drag. Still, those moments are relatively few. Mostly the game is a joy.

Now Playing in August ‘15

The new job is really putting the squeeze on my gaming time. For what I think is the first time since I started doing this monthly post I managed to not beat a single game. Still, I did spend some considerable time with a pretty solid trio of games.

Beaten

None.  I beat no games in August.  I didn’t have a ton of time to play games and I sunk that time into games that never end.  

Ongoing

Etrian Odyssey Untold 2 – I am close to the end here and I’ve really enjoyed. I just couldn’t punch it through before the end of the month.  I will have a full review coming soon.

Pokemon Alpha Sapphire – This got sidelined for Etrian Odyssey, but there is no chance that I don’t get back to it sooner rather than later. There is something about this generation of Pokemon that  just doesn’t click with me.  I never beat Sapphire or Ruby back in the day and I am not really loving this one, despite all of its very real improvements on X & Y.  I think it is the Pokemon selection.  I can’t really find monsters that I really want to use.

Dragon Age Origins – This game finally wore me down and I just couldn’t keep going.  It really is very well made.  I like the game; I just wasn’t currently enjoying playing it.  Some day, though.

Star Wars KotOR – I gave up on this because I wasn’t enjoying trudging through the portion of the game I’ve already beaten and because my laptop is limping and gasping like it is about to collapse.  I will beat this game one day, but it likely won’t be this year.

Elliot Quest – I’ve made some small progress on this game.  It is a mostly delightful little 8-bit throw back, with shades of Zelda 2 and Kid Icarus, but honestly more fun than either of those.

Upcoming

Super Mario Maker – I’ll get this next week and likely lose my life to it.  It looks so great.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – Another new game the looks incredibly good.  I am a fan, but not a super fan, of this series.  For some reason, though, I can’t imagine not playing this game right as it comes out. It is one of my last connections to so called “hardcore gamers.”  It feels like the last game of a dying age and I need to witness it.

Ace Attorney Trilogy – I’ve played these games before, but I picked this up on its slight sale the other week and with the announcement of AA6 the time felt right to give these another look.

LBX – Some friends sold me on this tiny robot Pokemon game.  I hope my money was well spent.

Persona Q

I love Persona 3 and Persona 4. They are some of my favorite games on the PS2, well-realized on both the gameplay and story sides of things. I also have greatly enjoyed the Etrian Odyssey series on the DS and 3DS. Though the two series are plenty different, such as Persona’s incredibly well written characters and Etrian Odyssey’s player created blank slates, they also have significant overlap. Both are fairly difficult dungeon crawlers, imbued with an old school sensibility that forces players to fend for themselves at times. The announcement that Atlus was making a game that combined the gameplay of Etrian Odyssey with the characters from those two Persona games was about the best thing I could imagine. While the end result was an excellent game, it didn’t quite live up to my exaggerated expectations. Everything combined nicely, except for the cast. There are just too many characters there for any of them to get their due. Persona Q: Shadows of the Labyrinth expertly turns the various systems of both Persona and Etrian Odyssey into an engaging gameplay experience, but can’t quite make room for all the characters in the story.

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The battle system is an odd mix of the two series. It has the Shin Megami Tensei series’ elements and focus on hitting weakness, but also Etrian’s binds. It uses Personas, but not in the same way that rest of the series does. Each character has their set Persona, but each character is allowed a secondary Persona. They don’t alter stats or anything like that; they are simply receptacles for extra skills and a slight HP/TP boost. The boost is the biggest quirk of the battle system. The bonus HP/TP regenerates at the end of every battle. It incentivizes using some skills in every battle, but not going all out. It is best to use one strong skill, which is essentially free, and finish battles quickly rather than get drawn into a long battle. The boss battles turn things on their head, though. Instead of quickly know outs, they are going to be long drawn out fights. They tend to be more frustrating than fun, since you have to change your strategy around completely to make it work.

It is a battle system prone to wide swings in momentum. Critical hits or hitting a weakness gives that character a free use of a skill. If you can consistently hit weakness the battle turns in your favor, if not you drain your resources very quickly. It can be frustrating, when only a few battles sends you back to heal up, but when things are going right it is quite satisfying. Also, instant death magic in this game is stupidly overpowered. To make the majority of a breeze, just jam Naoto, who has both flavors of instant death magic, into your party and obliterate everything in your path. Combine it with the skill impure reach, easily available at low levels, and she destroys the game by herself. It makes it hard to look at anything else when one strategy is so overwhelmingly effective.

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The dungeon crawling is the best in any of the Etrian games, better than those in Strange Journey, the DS attempt at a similar style game. Each floor brings a new and tougher puzzle. In terms of complexity, Persona Q’s floors start out near the middle of an Etrian game and work up from there. They tend to be very windy with specific puzzles rooms. The difficulty of the puzzles depends on the player’s fear of the FOEs. The game conditions players to fear them, but often if you treat them like a boss battle the FOEs can usually be defeated. They tend to hand out both drops for good equipment and a healthy chunk of experience, making it worth the player’s time.

The story is the big disappointment with game is the story. I came in wanting to enjoy it, expecting to enjoy it. And to a certain extent it is. The central storyline, that of Rei and Zen and why the two teams are stuck in the dungeon is solid. Nothing too unexpected or groundbreaking, but it is a solid enough foundation to build this story on. The problem is with the characters. All of the returning characters from Persona 3 and Persona 4 are, in their own games, great characters. Combined, however, there are just too many of them, so none of them can get enough focus to feel real. It doesn’t help that none of them can actually change, since they have to go back into their own games from right where they disappeared.

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Really, there are just too many characters around. Only 5 can go in the party at once, but all 17 them talk as though you brought them along in the dungeon. So the whole cast gets reduced to one drop in characteristic. Teddy is after the girls, that is his only motivation. Chie likes meat, Akihiko protein and Rise the P4 MC. Some of them do come off better than others, though. Little Ken from P3 strikes up an unlikely friendship with P4’s Kanji. Occasionally Mitsuru gets through an uncharacteristic fun. Aigis was never my favorite character, but here her robot act, as overplayed as it is, is a fun counterpoint to the rest of the game. For the most part, the one-note cliché’s the characters are reduced to drop in far too often to to interrupt the player’s progress through the dungeons. A few times is okay, but it is constant and unceasing, making what should be a delight something that is more than a little frustrating.

The last problem with the game is that it hangs around just a little too long. Persona Q took me about sixty hours to beat, but I stopped enjoying it after about forty five. I trudged through the last dungeon, which is fine on its own merits, continuing with the game out of a stubborn desire to not let the game beat me. I should have just let it go; I would likely have remembered it better. Now that I’ve beaten it, I like it again, but I don’t love it. If I were to redo my Top 10 list from last year, it would either move from where I put it at to slot 10 or just off the list at 11, or maybe just stay where it was. Persona Q: Shadow if the Labyrinth is as good as anyone should have expected it to be, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get my hopes up way too high and set myself up for some slight disappointment.