Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles

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The photo cuts off their faces, but oh well.

A couple of years ago my hubby bought me Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles for Christmas on the Wii. Steve-O and I played it all night and completed it in one sitting. Outside of my limited arcade experience, it was the only rail-shooter I’d ever played. I’m also going to say it’s probably the only game that successfully implemented Wii controls, too. Point and shoot the zombies. Easy and entertaining enough. I got my zombie fix and also got to laugh at the ridiculous ways the writers tried to write in new and superfluous facts with their already-established canon. Kinda like all those stupid Final Fantasy spin-offs with forgettable one-dimensional extra characters.

I saw Resident Evil Chronicles HD for free on PSN, so I downloaded them  both because I’ve been meaning to try The Umbrella Chronicles. Sadly, I can’t say we had as much fun with the first installment in this zombie-killing shooter. The developers made it perfectly clear this game is intended to be used with the Playstation Move. Well, I don’t have Move, but silly us figured we could get away with playing it like any other FPS game. Wrong! The sensitivity is absolutely terrible and you can’t adjust it. I don’t think I’ve ever played a shooter and thought, “I need to lower/increase the sensitivity” and not had the option to do so! It might be premature for me to say this one paragraph into the review, but I don’t recommend purchasing this game unless you get the Wii version or own Move for the Playstation.

This sucks because I really wanted to like this game (and every other Resident Evil game since the PS2 era, actually.) Games offering local co-op seem few and far between these days, so Steve-O and I try to play as many as possible. I will say playing co-op is more fun, and by more fun I mean less frustrating, than playing single player in Umbrella Chronicles. Because even if you want to play every level co-op style, you can’t. In order to experience all of the content, there are several extra stages to play that are only one-player. Even though, in the case of Rebecca’s stages, she’s not even alone. Richard is RIGHT there! But for some reason they want you to play single player. Not really sure why because the single player moments suck. I’m not entirely sure why… I’m assuming it’s because the difficulty isn’t scaled to reflect one person killing zombies instead of two.

Making a zombie dead again is about as difficult as the old school resident evil games, except now everything is super fast-paced and you don’t get to keep any herbs on hand. Many zombies completely disregard headshots because why not? I’m sorry, but if I’m given the ability to perform a headshot, outside of boss fights I want to be guaranteed a satisfying explosion as a result. The only gun you’re guaranteed to have ammo for is the pistol which you never get to upgrade! Awesome, right? The weapons you do get to upgrade vary from shotguns to magnums to rocket launchers which are mostly unlockables. Before each level begins, you get to select a beginning weapon to carry alongside your crappy-but-always-loaded pistol. Otherwise, you have to cross your fingers that you might happen across (and have quick enough reflexes to pick up) any of the other weapons you like.

Weapons are upgraded with stars earned from completing stages. The better your performance, the more stars you get to improve your arsenal. We didn’t seem to perform well enough to get more than 2 stars a stage when guns began costing 4-5 stars to upgrade. And, well, we didn’t really enjoy the stages enough to want to do them again. Thankfully we  both had our own favorite guns we almost always chose to go into a stage. But once you blow through your initial ammo allotment, you’d better cross your fingers that you happen across more. Otherwise, you’re left to the game’s devices regarding which gun you’ll be using. Thankfully there’s also grenades, which are fun to toss around into the hordes of zombie’s you’ll come across.

One other aspect of the game I want to complain about real quick are the quicktime events. Oh. My. God. They are absolutely terrible in this game. I’ve played plenty of games which incorporate QTEs, and this is the only game that succeeded in elevating them to hair-tearing-frustration level.  During co-op, both players must manage to pull them off correctly. If not, many times you’ll get a one-hit kill. Which, whatever, there are checkpoints nowadays so I can forgive that. But what I can’t forgive is the randomness of them, their insistence on using trigger buttons for QTEs and the small window you’re given to pull them off. Trigger buttons! Who does that? It’s like, “We’re giving you two seconds to figure out whether this is L2 or R2. And if you die, we’re gonna change it to the opposite trigger button for your next attempt so you get to die again!”

Umbrella Chronicles covers the events of Resident Evil: Zero, Resident Evil, and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. I think it’s quite telling that if you remove inventory juggling, crank handle matching, and locating keys to match keyholes, you can crunch the action of three games into one 6ish hour game. But anyway, that was the bread and butter of those old games, I just find it a little amusing.

All my grievances aside, I have a feeling this would’ve been as much co-op fun as Darkside Chronicles if I wasn’t playing with a regular PS3 controller. So don’t make the same mistake we did if you decide to give this game a go!

Parasite Eve Replayed!

Parasite_Eve_CoverartOh, the things I learned about mitochondria… Like how to use it as hair gel.

Parasite Eve and I have history. Good history, in fact (minus my first attempt at the final boss but we won’t go down THAT memory lane). I like this game enough to bestow upon it an honored slot on my video game top ten list! Recently, I decided to fix slcantwell’s egregious oversight of never playing this Squaresoft gem. So, we plodded away at this 10-ish hour game for a couple of weeks and finally ended Eve’s spawn last night.

There will be no mention of the Chrysler Tower or collecting hundreds of pieces of junk in this review. 99.9% of the time we hang out we have two little people running around. Ain’t no mommies got time for crazy optional stuff. I did the Chrysler Tower years ago and leveled Aya to 99, but never ever will I farm junk for Wayne. Unless the reward was a picture of his junk or something.

My point is, this was a quick run-through so she could experience this overlooked classic. She wanted to know what all of my fuss with PE was about, anyway. And I wanted to test my memory with a few things. Turns out, the overly-critical academic actually liked the game and my memory was, well, what I expect it to be nowadays.

For those of you who haven’t played this game (go download it from PSN and play it now, fools!) it’s a very unique experience; even stacked against gaming offerings released in the two generations following the Playstation. When I first played Parasite Eve, I was 16 and my love of RPGs was newfound. I’d played Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and probably some other ones, and Chrono Cross. Squaresoft could do no wrong in my eyes (Oh, how times have changed). When I saw this game with female lead characters made by Squaresoft, toting a unique action system with a sci-fi vibe, I ponied up the cash immediately. It’s rated M (17+) and thankfully Gamestop didn’t care about age-appropriate suggestions at the time. PE was released after FFVII. They even use that as a selling-point on the packaging. You know, “Coming from the makers of Final Fantasy VII,” or something like that. It might’ve been a little misleading, since you can’t really compare the two. Yes, they are both RPGs made by the same company, but they’re of different breeds. Obviously, Final Fantasy games are fantasies, set in whole new worlds which take hours to establish and explore. As I mentioned, Parasite Eve is a science fiction tale. It’s based on a Japanese novel, which also has a movie adaptation with the same name. I’ve played/read/watched them all. The video game adaptation is almost like a sequel to the novel, taking place in New York City.

And gaming gods help me, even stating the plot premise is going to sound ridiculous. The game is about saving humankind from their own mitochondria.

There, I said it.

The story is as chuckle-inducing B-movie cheesy as it sounds. And then some. Especially with the delivery, which is done through completely over embellished dialogue. “…” and “…!?” and “WHAT THE…!” are beaten to bloody pulps, they’re used so much. All these years later, I’m still not sure how someone would speak and/or express “…!?” Someone please link or send a video of this expression being performed. In between the “…” pauses, the characters will most likely be talking about evolution and mitochondria. The idea is that “Mitochondria Eve,” (the title given to the first female ‘discovered’ when the human genome was traced back to its origins somewhere in Africa) has finally manifested and decided to take control from the humans, their ‘vehicle’ used to ‘create the perfect environment for them.’ I’ve gotta ask how modern-day New York City was their envisioned utopia. To be fair, the silly premise is backed up by scientific facts and if you pay attention you might learn a few things. Like, did you know that if all the mitochondria in a human’s body worked together at the same time they could produce 200,000 volts of electricity? This fact is used to justify humans erupting into flames at the drop of a hat all over the place. If they aren’t getting barbequed by their own mitochondria they’re melting into blobs of mitochondrial ichor to become the uterus for the Ultimate Being; AKA- final boss fight. And what a final boss it is! We’re talking multiple forms, along with a one-hit-kill-one-wrong-turn-will-cost-you-chase-sequence- at the end. This definitely ranks high on my RPG final boss fight list.

So what hope could humanity possibly have against their own mitochondria which can fry them to crispy bits if they so (apparently) desired? The main character, of course! Aya Brea, a rookie cop in New York City, becomes the hero. Thanks to dumb luck, really. Without giving away too much about her ties to the main baddie, her mitochondria underwent a different mutation, becoming a natural enemy to the “master race” mitochondria. In terms of game play, this manifests itself in the form of “Parasite Energy.” Think of it as magic spells. Parasite Energy offers itself in both offensive and defensive ways. You can heal, remove status effects, cast Preraise, and transform into your own version of a mitochondria angel of death. The spell is Liberate. And it changes everything. Be absolutely sure you don’t leave the final zone, the museum, without it. Using Parasite Energy is much like casting magic in other RPGS; you open up your menu and select whichever spell you wish to cast from a list. It is a consumable resource (Can’t make things too easy now), but instead of having items to replenish your PE stock, you must wait for the PE bar below your health to fill on its own. This method means you are cramming less items into your already limited inventory, and it also adds another layer of strategy. After casting a few spells, you’ll notice the bar filling up slower and slower, until you’ve come to the point when you’ve used all the medicines you brought along and your PE still hasn’t replenished to the point when you can  cast Full Cure. One way to bypass this is to change your armor. For whatever reason, this resets your PE charge rate. But it means you have to gamble utilizing a turn to change into inferior armor, risk taking more damage instead of inflicting damage or healing.

Aside from PE energy, the battle system is a bird of it’s own feather. You have a traditional ATB, like many RPGs. While the ATB is filling, you have control of Aya, and must dodge enemy attacks in the designated battle screen. Enemies can bite, shoot fireballs or poisonous gas at you, or grab you. Speaking of poisonous gas, poison sucks in this game! Sucks as in don’t get hit by it because it inflicts a substantial amount of damage. You can mod your armor to have “anti-poison” which is a joke. The game doesn’t tell you what the percentage resistance is, but seeing as how I wasted a mod permit to add a slot for it and the next fight I got in I was poisoned…  it wasn’t worth it. Anyway, when it’s Aya’s turn to perform an action, she attacks with good old-fashioned guns. Something I get sick of seeing in today’s video game market, but back then it was fresh and different. I’d only really played platformers and fantasy games with funky swords and magic until then. There are rifles, shotguns, machine guns, rocket launchers… all sorts of goodies. I really enjoy the simple yet satisfying method of improving Aya’s arsenal. Weapons and armor (of which you can only equip one of each at a time) come with three parameters. They also may or may not have additional effects; i.e. 2x attack, item capacity increases, elemental damage… stuff like that. Added parameters and effects can be moved with a Tool from one gun or armor to another. You can shift ALL THREE parameters from one gun or armor to another. Alas, unless you have a Super Tool you can only move one added effect at a time. Each gun or armor has a pre-designated number of effect slots. But with a mod permit or trading card you can add more. For guns I recommend 3x attack, burst, and whatever else. We went with poison… it rocked. Enemies fell to poison while Aya’s ATB was charging many times for us. With armor you can add HP+, extra item capacity, status ailment resistances (which aren’t reliable) or PE boosts.

Changes are, you’ll spend the bulk of the game with the same gun and armor, boosting their stats through the roof. A great feature of Parasite Eve is the ability to carry over your weapon and armor of choice into New Game Plus. Give them a snazzy name, and they’ll come with you into subsequent adventures. In New Game Plus, you’ll want to  continue boosting their stats to the point where barely anything touches you and then take on the Chrysler Tower. I said I wasn’t gonna talk about that optional 99-floor nightmare, but I just want to make the point that there is additional content worth doing after completing the initial adventure.

Aya also levels relatively traditionally in RPG terms. You gain experience for killing mitochondria mutants, level, and your stats increase. If you’re lucky Aya will learn a new PE spell. You will always gain Bonus Points (BP) which can be applied in a plethora of ways. When selecting the BP section of the menu, you’ll be given the option to increase Aya’s ATB recharge rate, her item capacity, or one parameter on any weapon or armor of choice. Again, very simple, but that’s what I like. Hard to screw up or forget.

The game never leaves New York City, but the scenery doesn’t get stale. You’ll go to Central Park, Soho, and even the Statue of Liberty before all is said and done. The only zone I really don’t like is the sewers. And that’s because sewers in RPGs and I have a tumultuous past. Meaning I hate them. The sewers in PE are terrible because they’re like a grid maze with annoying enemies that blind and treasure that’s so good you won’t want to risk missing it. I like every other area in the game available for exploration; even the large National Museum of Science at the end, though I find it easy to get lost in there, too. But who am I kidding? I’m basically an expert at getting lost in games.

I mentioned the cheesy dialogue delivery and story line, so perhaps I should mention the characters and other bits of presentation. The wonderful irony in this game is that you’d expect there to be all sorts of female stereotypes, given the main character is a young women (blond and skinny, of course, but let’s not get too carried away!). I personally found the more obvious stereotypes directed towards the all-male supporting cast. Daniel, Aya’s partner at the precinct, is an “angry black man” who punches out more than one person before the game is over. Maeda, a scientist from Japan, is your typical Japanese man who can’t manage a coherent sentence around a pretty girl. And Aya, the main character, is a rookie cop hesitant hero type, but there isn’t much emphasis placed on the fact that she has a vagina. In the opening of the game she goes to an opera with a date, who remains nameless and you never hear about him again after she elbows him the hell out of her way when he’s freaking out about dying. By all rights, he should have erupted into flames along with the rest of the audience. I’m okay with this particular plot hole because without it we’d never get to experience him saying, “Oh Jesus… I… I don’t want to die…!” before Aya knocks him over with her shoulder and he is never heard from again.

Yeah, this game has a lot of plot holes like that. They’re mainly silly things, like “I was ahead of him, how did he get to this room before me?” But there are some significant ones, like, “How did that Navy Admiral know Aya is the only one immune to Eve’s powers?” My favorite, however, is the very unlikely evacuation of NYC in ONE night. Hah!

For its release date, PE’s graphics were pretty good. I love the soundtrack and listen to it quite often, minus the recycled bad opera tracks. This is before the time of voice acting, so there’s no worrying about bad VAs. Looking back without my fangirl lenses on, I realize this game has quite a few flaws and comes across as pretty silly 90% of the time. But in terms of gameplay, it is still a unique and fun experience while offering a challenge. One of my main gripes is how difficult leveling is. there are no random fights and enemy spawn rates are quite low until you get to the final zone. And after leveling Aya to 99 once, I have no desire to spend hours leveling there probably ever again (Levels don’t carry over into New Game Plus, in case you were wondering).

If you’re a fan of Squaresoft before the disastrous merge with Enix and haven’t played this game yet, do it already!

Asura’s Wrath

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This screencap is ostensibly more badass than anything you will accomplish in-game.

Shena and I finished Asura’s Wrath recently, and I feel like I’m sort of at a loss for how to review it. On the one hand, it was sold for the PS3 and at the price of a video game. On the other hand, it’s heavily cinematic and you spend more time watching than playing. Anyone who’s remotely interested in the game as a story piece will want major events unspoiled (and I’ll try my best to avoid doing so), but as an analysis of the gameplay and presentation, this is going to be short and not-so-sweet.

 Since it will be much shorter to address, I will touch upon the story and delivery first. In my old age, I’m relatively pleased with even a mediocre story; in todays video game market, you basically have to be in order to avoid never-ending disappointments. When you can make sense of Asura’s Wrath’s story, it is pretty standard-fare, especially when you stack it against the genre to which it is chiefly compared; Anime. This has its share of pros and cons, but as we went through the story, the cons stuck with me much longer than the pros. It is episodic, and that is pretty standard for the genre. Devil May Cry was episodic, Bayonetta was episodic, the list goes on. However, in keeping with the cinematic aspect of being episodic, each chapter is littered with credits. Opening and closing, each chapter, for approximately eighteen chapters. I think Capcom may have forgotten that they were making a video game.
As a rabid fan of Xenosaga I can be forgiving of overly-cinematic video games. The problem lies in the fact that this is supposed to be an action beat-em-up, complete with quick-time events during the lengthy cutscenes…credits are distracting during events where missing a button prompt will punish your stage ranking. The fact that, because of the presentation, it felt like the entire game was just an opening FMV is not helped by the fact that the game has a very choppy timeline. At any given moment halfway through, I felt about as lost by when such-and-such was supposed to occur, and because of the credits rolling it really did feel like the opening movie. We eventually learned to distinguish on which side of a pivotal event the current scene took place by the colors of the characters’ eyes. I wish I was kidding.
The icing on the plot cake was one of my chief pet peeves in storyline delivery; inconsistency. I specifically remember on one or two occasions, the developers were kind enough to let us know that this event took place “x years later”. I specifically remember it because with the way the story is structured, and the fact that the characters are immortal and don’t visibly age, there is no reason every timeline shift shouldn’t be prefaced by something like this. The fact that we saw it on one or two occasions was irritating enough that I’d wished we hadn’t seen it at all!
Finishing up as much of the story aspect as I can without spoiling anything, I will say that, out of the robust cast of characters, only one got any noteworthy development. And that one wasn’t even the titular character; when you play as a hotheaded antagonist from beginning to end, you expect to see a bit of growth in him, but such was not the case here. If a game is going to be cinematic, you would imagine they’d put a lot of care into character development, but the entire cast is just a series of cardboard cutouts with no growth. If you can imagine, Asura has less of a personality than Kratos, despite his motivation being shamelessly torn directly from God of War. The difference is that GoW backed up his one-dimensional personality with visceral gameplay and escalating bad-assery. Asura has some pretty entertaining, over-the-top (which is, coincidentally, one of this game’s stronger points) sequences, but you’re never behind the wheel of said sequences. As a matter of fact, they put one of your two melee attack buttons on a cooldown, so you just mash the only available button. But I digress, the main point is that Asura is as much a bull in a china shop in the beginning of the game as he is when the ending credits roll. The REAL ending credits, not the episode ending credits.
 Oh, and speaking of the REAL ending, if you buy this game and perform well enough to get what the game itself calls the TRUE ending, be prepared for any sort of closure on the story to be completely ripped away as a reward for your hard work. That is, of course, unless you decide to shell out another, what…8 bucks? To download the totally-real-no-I’m-serious-this-time-canon final chapter and fight the final boss “teased” in the game’s true ending. I’m not an opponent of DLC by any stretch, but when you deliberately withhold your game’s final boss fight and ending to nickel and dime it a few weeks later, that’s shady. Speculation seems to be that it was originally decided to be a sequel but, due to poor sales, they added it as DLC. Props for them releasing it, I suppose, but it’s more than a little presumptuous to think a lackluster gameplay experience with an absolutely vanilla story and forgettable characters will generate enough revenue to guarantee a sequel.
Speaking of lackluster gameplay, that’s where this game’s real black eye lies. When we saw what the general idea of the game was going to be, I thought, cool. We have a vendetta itinerary of people we get to kill off on our way to the big baddie, Megaman-style. Boy was I fooled…the first problem with that assessment is that out of the seven enemies you allegedly carve your way to, you only get to battle four. The other three get cutscene-killed before you even lay a finger on them. The second problem with this assessment is basically the combat system in its entirety. As you fight the bosses, you fill a Burst gauge, while preserving your own HP gauge. Once the burst gauge is full, you trigger the Burst, enter some QTEs, and finish the fight/kill the boss. This sort of system didn’t really work for me because it felt like you spent most of your time just surviving, not making progress. Thinking after we finished the game, I wondered if they tried to make the Burst gauge a sort of stand-in for the boss’s HP gauge, but it never really felt that way as we progressed through the game. Phases never change throughout the Gauge’s progression, you simply stay alive long enough to trigger a cutscene victory, all the while saying to yourself “Wow, I wish I was doing that.” You never feel like you’re getting stronger; the game lacks any sort of resources and character growth. Their idea of getting strong enough to kill more powerful adversaries is giving Asura a few extra arms during the aforementioned I-win cutscenes. You have a comical lack of mobility against bosses that can dash into the next country in the blink of an eye while you plod after them. Sure, you get a dash, that is offset by a mandatory attack, wasting more time than if you had just continued “running.” The game is missing the trademark double-jump that the genre has adopted since, what…the original Devil May Cry? And with some of the boss’s screen-filling attacks, it certainly would have been nice.
To wrap things up, I will touch upon a few finer points; the soundtrack is extremely limited. You’ll hear the same four or five songs ad nauseam. Luckily for me, I was rather fond of one of them, so by the end there was at least one track that was still bearable. Overall, the audio experience is very bland and same-ey. I do like the character and enemy design, generally speaking, even if the skin texture seemed a little off to me. As a game, Asura’s Wrath definitely falls flat as an example of what not-to-do for the genre. As a story, it seems relatively humdrum, and the fact that you get a more complete story by NOT getting what the game calls a “true ending” is absurd. Unless you opt to spend the extra cash and download the real ending, that is. I would recommend against buying the game for the gameplay, and if you’re looking for a good story with solid delivery, the money can definitely be spent better elsewhere.
Steve-O

Dragon Fantasy Book II

You’ll have to forgive my lack of concept/cover art image followed by a snarky comment in italics. My virus-laden, decade-old laptop isn’t cooperating this morning. Ya know, kind of like the game’s programming that distracts from most of the otherwise fun, retro experience.

I sang praises over book 1 of Dragon Fantasy. It incorporated my loves and loathes from the NES-era of turn-based RPGs, all the while being fresh and funny. By the time I got around to playing it, most of the complaints I’d read about online had been fixed or greatly reduced. I was able to forgive what issues still remained; they didn’t detract from the overall experience for me and sometimes they added some humor. While playing Book 2, the few issues I did come across were way more aggravating. Somewhere past the halfway point my game decided it liked to crash. Yes, it was a mere inconvenience, as the game will “Continue” from the last screen you entered (my experience, anyway) without losing much progress. But it shouldn’t have happened as often as it did. Upon reaching the final dungeon in this installment, my game kept crashing and prompting me to send an error report. I was scratching my head, wondering why it was happening in the exact spot over and over. Then I realized I was soloing Ogden when the game was trying to get him to have a conversation with the teammates I dumped at the Inn so I’d get the “Riding Solo” trophy. Huh.

You’d think that’d be something they would’ve thought about beforehand, seeing as how you’re permitted to Drop Off or Pick Up party members at whim. Anyway, I had to backtrack, pick up the party members I didn’t want to drag along but had to (which is fine, but don’t give me the illusion otherwise and have the game crash as a consequence) and complete that specific zone before dumping them back off at the Inn so the supporting cast and stupid captured monsters can get drunk while Ogden slays the final boss alone.

Yeah, monster capturing. I hate it and I hate how all kinds of RPGs (even Kingdom Hearts, for God’s sake!) think it is a necessary feature we all want. It’s old news, guys. It’s already been done. And it’s called Pokemon. Stop it already! Personally, I’m not crazy about it, especially when all the enemies I managed to capture had the same generic moves with only a few unique abilities. These abilities were usually something a main playable plot character already had anyway, like Anders’ elemental magic spells. I briefly considered unlocking all the trophies for Book 2 like I did for Book 1, but when I saw I’d have to capture 50 unique monsters I remembered why I don’t farm trophies and got over that notion real quick.

Book 1 of Dragon Fantasy was created with 8-bit graphics which could be enhanced to look and sound slightly less old. Book 2 is a 16-bit SNES homage and looks much different. The character models running around the screen aren’t the teeny 8-bit sprites I was expecting. Monster designs are similar with some variations. You’ve still got the staple rock monsters and skeletons trying to kill you. Except now they won’t be hounding you on the world map while you’re trying to get from point A to point B. That’s right, random battles are now a thing of the past! I’m not going to pretend to miss them in the slightest. The other change along these lines that I find to be an improvement is how they handled encountering lower-level mobs. One of my RPG pet peeves is wasting time fighting low-level enemies while backtracking familiar territory for side quests or what have you. Book 2 agrees with me. When encountering laughably weak monsters, Ogden will jump in the middle of the screen, flash his sword, and with a “SMAAAAASH!” the pesky pathetic mobs go flying off screen. The battle is over and you can move on with your life. Since random encounters are gone you can try running from groups of enemies on the map, but I never had much luck with that. No, instead they would follow me until I stumbled upon the next monster party taking place on a narrow pathway I had no hopes of circling around. Then I’d get to fight both groups at once. Joy.

Thankfully, this game is nowhere near as difficult as its predecessor. Even without capturing monsters to make a full party due to neglect or laziness, I still didn’t have as difficult a time merely surviving as in Book 1. This installment’s hours are filled with more content and less grinding. I was never forced to stop and clear out a dungeon’s enemies multiple times to gain levels and money for gear like with Ogden’s quest in Book 1. Again, I’m not complaining.

The story is fleshing out now that the obligatory introductions are out of the way. The storytelling is much improved over Book 1. This time around, the journey starts with a full party who get separated, instead of the awkward fragmented method used in Book 1. You still get to select whose side of the story to experience in whichever order you wish. Then everything comes full circle at the climax and you’re treated to what actually feels like a final boss fight! The first Book really missed that RPG staple. The dialogue and narration are as corny as ever, while still managing to convey the “Ragtag bunch coming together to save the world” RPG storyline we’ve all come to know.

I find a lot of the humor to be getting stale. I still laughed out loud, but not nearly as often as before. The in-battle dialogue and descriptions are a hindrance to the faster-paced combat style it feels like they were trying to achieve.  The animations either go ahead while the dialogue boxes struggles to keep up with my intense button mashing, OR the characters onscreen act like they’re frozen in time while the box is empty and skips a few beats. Or something. Yes, “Clambake gives Ogden food poisoning,” can be chuckle-inducing the first few times, but after that it isn’t funny anymore and dealing with the disjointed flow of battle makes me wish they’d given up entirely on those on-going gag.

More annoying hiccups real quick; character navigation freezing up after exiting menus or entering a new screen haven’t disappeared! After getting out of menus, wiggling the stick or pressing on the D-pad usually just decides not to work for a few seconds. Or you’ll be able to move horizontally and not vertically, or vice versa. Not a game changer, but something you’d think they would’ve figured out since the last game. I don’t remember if this was an issue last time, but while shopping or using items in my inventory, my collection liked to hide just long enough for me to wonder where the hell it went. The only way I could get them to reappear was to exit and reenter the menu.

In terms of more quality gameplay hours spent outside of grinding, DFB2 also incorporated a coliseum and side quests! It would’ve been nice to be able to do more rounds in the Coliseum as Ogden. I’m hoping that’s to come in Book 3. The side quests were a welcome addition after I’d done a few. At first I was like, “Side quests? SIGH.” But they’re not too bad. Item retrievals are sparkling on the ground and hard to miss. These are super easy and are usually in zones you have to traverse for plot purposes anyway. The bounty and capture side quests can be misleading. I had to google a couple of them because the quest description in the menu doesn’t always jive with what the NPC said. And who really commits what quest-giving NPCs say to memory? So yeah, there’s some misleading quests that say “slay” when they mean “capture.” If you don’t get the notification that the bounty was complete and you can go get your reward, you’ll know you did it wrong. Speaking of, the game thankfully tells you which town the person occupies, but it’s up to your memory to find them. For me, well, that usually meant a couple of minutes speaking to each person in town until I found the right one.

I’m torn about this game because I feel the improvements they made are overshadowed by the improvements they still need to make. DFB1 was comfortable in what it was striving to be and did it rather well. Book 2 is a bit confused about its place in the world. I’m hoping the series will either continue to evolve into a less-glitchy, clever breath of fresh air, or even go back to its roots. I’d be fine with one or the other, as long as they don’t stick with the middle-ground uncertainty displayed here.