My World, My Way

During the height of the Nintendo DS’s life, certain niche publishers loaded the system up with niche titles. Even at the time, it was obviously a golden age for middle of the road jrpgs and weird experiments. In 2009 Atlus published My World, My Way; a title that disappeared pretty quickly into that sea of titles and was quickly forgotten. It was kind of sad; the game is a quirky little game that deserves at least a little attention.

The set up for My World, My Way is that spoiled fantasy princess Elise gets annoyed that the cute boy she meets has no interest in her because she is just a spoiled princess. To show him what’s up, she decides to go on an adventure to show him that she could be an adventurer. To make sure she comes home safe, her father sends Nero to arrange for suitably safe adventures for her. As things go, she slowly grows into a true adventurer.

Other than the set up, there really isn’t anything all that novel to the game. The player has a two person party with Elise and her little pink slime Pinky. Elise is a traditional jrpg character. She levels up, she gets new equipment, she learns new skills. There are some wrinkles. Elise can get stat increases by eating meals at inns. Those are expensive, but they make a big difference the closer to the end you get. She can also learn spells by being hit with them. Well, actually not Elise; her pet parrot who learns magic spells for her. Pinky is an old monster archetype character; it grows by copying the body parts of enemies you defeat, with stronger monsters giving stronger stats and abilities. This sort of growth has existed since as far back as Final Fantasy Legend on the Gameboy. While having two different kinds of growth gives the player something, having only two characters makes it feels ultimately limited. The exploration is also pretty typical. You fight monsters with physical attacks and magic, beating monsters to complete quests.

Where the game is interesting is in Elise’s Pouting powers. As a spoiled princess, Elise is able to pout and get her way. Her pouting is so powerful it can change the nature of the world. These powers are vast. Elise can make enemies give more money, items or experience. She can simply demand a quest be counted as finished, even if it is not. She can force the the actual landscape of the world to change. If she needs to find flowers, she can turn forests into flower gardens. If she needs show, she can turn swamps into tundra. She can even invoke these powers in battle. Before battle, she can demand to go first or just decide the battle is not worth it and make the enemies go away. During the fight, she can give the enemies various status effects and hindrances.

That makes the game at least somewhat interesting. The pouting powers have their own points system to go with HP and MP, so you have balance which of your powers you use when. The whole game is about making a fairly unfriendly game work for you. It also makes the gameplay dovetail quite nicely with the story.

There really isn’t a lot of story here; I spoiled most of it with the set up. What makes it work is that Elise just really doesn’t care about the details of her adventure. She is as impatient as the player to get through the bullshit. Like the player, she is here to make her numbers get bigger; Elise couldn’t care less whether she collects 15 doodads to give the mayor of whatever town. She’s got on blinders, which makes the other part of the story work. Running just ahead of Elise is Nero, her mentor. He is setting up many of the quests she is completing, trying to make sure her goals are within her abilities. She ends up consistently doing better than he expects though.

It is genuinely enjoyable to see Elise just consistently blast through all the usual jrpg bullshit. There is a wise old owl that shows up to give advice, but Elise has absolutely no time for him. She cuts him off and tells him to get to the point.

I bought this game when it was new. I had some money and was spending way too much time playing 3DS games. I got about halfway through it before giving up. The game is only about twenty hours long and that is about all the time the game can support. For some reason I picked it back up a decade later. There wasn’t a lot of story to forget, so it was easy to get back into and push through to the end. This is the kind of hidden gem that is all over the DS library. There is no reason for anyone to go search out this game today, but if you stumble upon it, it is worth giving a shot.

Persona Q2 and a Goodbye to the Nintendo 3DS

I knew that Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth was going to be one of the last new games to be released for the Nintendo 3DS. I thought it would make a wonderful send off not only for that system, but for the entire Nintendo DS family of systems. There was no series that was more consistent across the more than fifteen years of DS and 3DS existence than Atlus’s Etrian Odyssey. The games only appeared on DS, with the first appearing in 2007 and the last proper game in the series, Nexus, hitting early this year. The Persona Q games, functioned as spin-offs of Etrian Odyssey, as well as spin offs of the Persona series. Persona wasn’t ubiquitous on the DS or the 3DS, but the greater Shin Megami Tensei series had more than a few releases. The last important game for the system being a mix of both seemed fitting.

That is why it pains me to say that Persona Q2 is an all around disappointment. It doesn’t really do anything as well as games in either of its parent series do. Some of it is baked into the concept; combining the casts of 3 Persona games into one meant that the game was always going to feel crowded. Some are seemingly self-inflicted, like changed to the map making interface. Overall, the feeling is a game that is constantly less fun to play than it should be.

I had a problem making sense of the bloated cast in the first Persona Q game, and that one was only combining the characters from Personas 3 and 4, this one adds the cast of Persona 5 to the mix and has an even bigger problem. The game does its best to lessen this, but it does so in the most disappointing way. You start with just the cast of Persona 5. At the start of the second, of five, dungeons you unlock the cast of Persona 4. Then in the third dungeon you finally get the cast of Persona 3. You are nearly halfway through the game before you even get to the Persona 3 crew. By that time you likely will have a pretty established party. The game gives you ways of getting underused party members up to speed in a hurry, but trying to sort through this many characters and find defined roles for them in the game’s battle system is a chore, especially because this is a game that is not afraid to punish the player. It is hard to experiment when any battle can go south in a hurry and a party wipe probably means a significant loss in progress. The game ends up kind of pushing the player to use the Persona 5 cast and they are the least interesting.

The combination of the casts of the three games also highlights their similarities. To me the differences were more apparent when it was just two, but now that all three of them are together you can see how the games have roles for characters to fill and while some details around the sides may change, the central conceits of these characters doesn’t.

There is a story. The somewhat parodic movies that the dungeons are structured after kind of work, I guess. The main plot, though, never even came close to catching my attention.

I was most disappointed in the map making. The game takes the stylish menus and such designs from Persona 5 and tries to transplant them on to the 3DS. It doesn’t really work, and it takes up more of the screen. The game adds a bunch of neat new elements to the map, like gates that toggle on and off, but zooms the screen in on the drawing part to make it something of a chore to actually use. Also, the drawing just doesn’t seem as responsive as it has been in the past. Overall, it just feels like a step back.

I did have fun with Persona Q2. I guess I liked it, it was just something of a disappointment. I wanted a fond farewell and I got a game that did its best to be unlikeable despite its many good qualities. There are other aspects of the game I could go into, like the demon fusing and the battles, but I don’t really have it in me. The baseline is that it was good, but everything it does has been done better somewhere else. I don’t really want just tear into the game forever.

Instead, I think this is a good time to eulogize the Nintendo 3DS. Persona Q2 is almost certainly the last significant 3DS release. It’s run was, if anything, a little longer than that of the original DS. Still, I get the feeling that the 3DS was written off years ago as a failure because it wasn’t the sales juggernaut that the original DS was and never really reexamined. I think it deserves to be remembered well, because the 3DS is a great little system. I’ve had a 3DS since only a few months after it was released, and I feel like I’ve played most of the major releases for the system. In the last couple of years I’ve skipped a bunch of Nintendo first party titles, but they have mostly been remakes and ports of games I have already played. Since 2011, the Nintendo 3DS has easily been my most played video game system.

It is home to lots of great JRPGs, like the Bravely Default games and a sizable chunk of Atlus output. There are tons of great platformers, including several Mario games and some really underrated Kirby games. There are adventures like all the Professor Layton and Ace Attorney and Zero Escape games. There are three excellent Fire Emblem games, several great Legend of Zeldas. A bunch of oddities, like Rhythm Thief, BoxBoy, and Attack of the Friday Monsters. There are three Monster Hunters. There are just so many good games. The 3D gimmick was kind of a miss, though it still looks really neat.

Nintendo combining their development for the console/handheld hybrid Switch is almost certainly the smart move. I will likely get a Switch sooner rather than later. The Switch is great, and Nintendo not splitting their resources across two different platforms is a good thing. But I am going to miss the little clamshell 3DS. I’ve been taking one of those with me everywhere for more than a decade and likely will continue to do so until I completely exhaust the DS/3DS games I can get my hands on. The dedicated handheld system appears to be dead, unless you count the Switch Lite, and I am sad to see it go. But I am thankful for all the fun I’ve had with my 3DS over the last eight years. Good night, sweet prince …

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.

Video Game Archaeology 3: Tsugunai: Atonement

Tsugunai: Atonement is probably one of newest games that will be covered here on Video Game Archaeology. The goal here is to explore forgotten, old games and Tsugunai only barely qualifies as old. Ten years was my intended cut off point and Tsugunai is not quite there. However, Tsugunai meets the other criteria, that the game be forgotten or at least not well known, no question. Even though it is only from the last console generation, Tsugunai: Atonement seems to have been well and truly forgotten.
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Wolf Pups and Trotmobiles

I want to fully recommend OkamiDen to anyone who owns a DS, but I can’t.  Not because OkamiDen is not a great game, it is, but because it too similar to its prequel Okami.

The original Okami, whether on the Wii or PS2 version, is one of the best games of the last ten years.  It is one of the few games that not only uses the Zelda action/adventure formula, but also uses it as well as the Zelda games do.  Aside from playing perfectly, Okami also looked and sounded wonderful.  It looked like a Japanese watercolor painting come to life.  Okami was just a joy to play and even to watch.  Video game consumers upheld their reputation for ignoring wonderful things by ignoring Okami.  Twice.

OkamiDen, part sequel, part remake, part port, is just the same as its predecessor.  Capcom did a terrific job fitting the game on the DS.  But in the first 5 hours or so, I have seen nothing that was not present in the first game.  It is arguably the best Zelda-like game on the DS; the only actual complaint I have with the game is that the first few dungeons are a bit too simple.  However, if the original Okami is available you should play it instead.  But that little wolf pup (Chibiterasu, the main character) is just so damn cute.  I can’t help but love him.  Play OkamiDen.  Buy it right now and play it.  Just don’t expect the same mind blowing experience as the original Okami.

I also beat Steambot Chronicles this week.  I need to write a big long love letter to this game, but I can’t.  Not right now.  Maybe it’s the fact that I played most of the game more than 2 years ago and it’s a little fuzzy.  Or maybe that fuzziness comes from the fact that I just had my wisdom teeth removed and am currently taking Vicodin.  Either way, I don’t have it in me right now.  But Steambot Chronicles is a very good game. Made by Irem and published in America by Atlus, Steambot Chronicles is a somewhat clunky sandbox game (GTA) with a great hook:  you control a mech (called a Trotmobile in the game) through a Miyazaki-esque world.  About half of the game is played by piloting a mech.  The controls take a little getting used to; one control stick controls the left leg, the other the right, L1 and R1 attack with the left and right hand respectively.  But once you master them, stomping around in a giant mech is just delightful. Your mech originally called the Earl Grey II but you can change it to whatever you want, is highly customizable.  There are all kinds of weapons/arms, legs and bodies, as well as different headlights and roof attachments.  In it, you can do all sorts of things: fight in arenas, transport people and goods, go mining, etc.

There are plenty of things to do outside the mech.  You can choose the amnesiac main character‘s, named Vanilla Beans, dialogue.  You can play him as a cocky jerk, a shy hero or anything in between.  It can make each playthrough slightly different.  One of the first things the player does is join a band with the people who found him on the beach.  By playing a Guitar Hero-esque mini-game, you can play a dozen or so instruments.  The songs are cheesy, but they fit the general tone of the game. That tone is earnestness.  This is a very earnest game.  It is somewhat sloppy, somewhat unfocused, but very earnest.  It is not a game for everyone; someone could easily be put off by the somewhat clunky nature of everything in the game.   But the world and tone make it a game that is easy to love in spite of its flaws.