Retro Review: Suikoden 2

Suikoden2cover

Still not enough room for all of the characters.

Recently, Steve-O and I had the urge to scratch a “retro JRPG” itch. Remembering that Suikoden 2 was added to the Playstation Store for only $10, a much more affordable option than the rare disc which, until then, sold for over $100 used, I went ahead and downloaded it. A game that had been on our bucket list for a long time, but disregarded because of the old price point, we were excited to finally play it. Steve-O especially, as he’s played every main entry title.

We’d played Suikoden 1 and 3 together in past years. While I don’t exactly dislike Suikoden games, they do have two defining features that also happen to be on my RPG pet peeves list: silent protagonists and recruiting a bajillion characters. Recruiting all 108 stars of destiny characters is mandatory if you want to see the best ending, to boot! Suikoden 2 doesn’t stop there when it comes to arbitrary requirements to get the better ending after investing 50 hours in the game. All I have to say is I’m grateful we played the game during Age of Google.

RPG pet peeves aside, Suikoden 2 is a pretty solid JRPG. It takes the groundwork framed by the first Suikoden and improves upon it. You’ll create your own silent (generic and boring) young protagonist, and through a strange series of circumstances, become the leader of a rebel army. You’ll get to name the main character and army, so choose the most inappropriate names you can come up with. Personally, I’m still gravely wounded over not having enough character spaces to name my army the “Fuzzy Beaver” or “Bearded Clam” army. So many missed opportunities…

suikoden2battle

Having six characters in battle at one time is helpful when experimenting with new allies.

Suikoden 2’s battle system is a bit different than many turn based games. I love that you’re able to bring six party members along with you, especially since the game FORCES certain characters on you ALL THE TIME! Add that to my RPG pet peeve list. In a game with over 108 recruitable/playable characters, being forced to bring certain characters with me so they can have one line of dialogue during a scene is beyond frustrating. Especially when you have a lot of equipment and Runes to swap around. Armor is relatively standard fare, but character weapons are unique to each character and can’t be removed. These add some individuality to a game where interchangeable Runes can make them blend together.

Certain characters have weapons with Runes embedded in them. This gives their weapons special effects, adding some flare. Some will have extra damage, some will have elemental effects. Each character can also have up to three Rune slots unlocked as they level. This means that you could potentially equip someone with 3 Runes to boost their physical attack prowess, 3 Runes full of magic spells, or whichever combination you desire. You can make some pretty sick physical attackers and mages with the right Rune combinations.This system helps make nearly any characters you select a viable option, but it does mean you’ll spend a lot of time micro-managing when swapping characters. And you will be changing your party up a lot because the game doesn’t really give you a choice not to.

One good feature that does help to offset all the character swapping and leveling you’ll potentially be doing is the experience distribution. The game doesn’t give those sitting out experience, but low level characters will catch up in a matter of a few fights, tops. This is the only hint I got that maybe, just maybe, they DID want us to experiment with different characters.

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Favorite boss design in the game.

I won’t say that Suikoden 2 is difficult, because it isn’t and if I did I’d be harassed with “N00B!” comments. But with that being said, the first boss fight was definitely a wake up call. Everything went from smooth sailing to “Okay maybe this game is serious!” Bosses in this game get multiple turns in a row, counters, and do crazy AoE damage. Sometimes, just for fun, they counter with an AoE attack then do it again on their turn before your characters get a chance to heal. Moral of the story: Never go into a boss fight without resting and getting spells back. You won’t make it long without high damaging runes and heal spells. Aside from the boss fights that actually require some thought and strategy, much of the battle system is a breeze.

The battle simulator fights, however, aren’t all that  great. Truthfully, it’s never been my thing to begin with. So I am a bit biased against them. I find the entire process cumbersome and boring. Half the time we wanted to let Apple do her own thing (This prompts the AI to handle the fighting for you) but she typically got units killed so we’d have to take matters into our own hands. Unlike other games of this nature, the player isn’t given a very clear picture of what their goal is. There were way, way too many hidden agendas and forced “Get your ass kicked by the enemies” for my liking.

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There is no HP meter either, you have to guess based on how many soldiers are left standing.

Don’t let fanboys with nostalgia vision try telling you about how unique the story in this game is, either. Sure, the over-arching plot doesn’t turn into “saving the world from an ultimate evil” like virtually every other JRPG in existence, but there’s plenty more JRPG tropes to go around: Silent protagonist? Check. Annoying characters that you just wanna kill tagging along for the entire journey? Check. Childhood best friend becoming your misled, angsty nemesis? Check. Traumatized child who refuses to speak until the dickbag she worships has his redeeming moment? Check. And that’s not even getting into all the watered down caricatures the characters are. There’s 108 of them, so it’s not like the writers really had any other choice.

As with most other old school JRPGs, the terrible translations make the entire experience more humorous than it probably should be. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

suikoden2valeriaquote

Though I have no doubt she really said this!

All in all, Suikoden 2 is a worthy JRPG to take the time to play if you’re a fan of that genre like we are. Steve-O, the Suikoden veteran, gives it a two thumbs up. Suikoden 2 wasn’t masochistic and grind-y enough for our tastes, though…. So maybe we’ll do Earthbound Beginnings next to further torture ourselves!

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

NiNoKuni

 

This is the boring cover.

I’ve finally finished Ni No Kuni. It took… a while. This game is a typical JRPG in a lot of ways. Think of it as yet another JRPG grind-fest with pets that you use in battle, combined with Studio Ghibli animation and storytelling.

I enjoy Studio Ghibli’s movies, so I thought I would like what they had to offer here. Sadly, I wasn’t really impressed. Maybe the writers just couldn’t figure out taking a 1.5 hour movie script and stretching it out over 50 hours of gameplay. I understand that. But I at least expected to like some of the characters. The main character, Oliver, is kind of cute, but everyone else I felt indifferent about. Well, except this THING:

Drippy

Meet Drippy.

This is Drippy, “Lord of the High Faeries,” as he’ll remind you about 5,000 times throughout the game. His voice is so obnoxious that during his first cutscene featuring voice acting I was going to quit playing if he was going to talk so much. As it turns out, the game doesn’t use voice acting in cutscenes all too often, so I stuck it out. But seriously, I wanted him to die. He has a lantern on his nose… that’s reason enough right there.

So, an RPG where I’m not crazy about any of the characters. Not off to a good start. I’m going to skip over the story for now, because that’s part of my rant, so we can talk about the battle system for a little bit.

I played this game on Easy. I’d heard it was a bit of a grind-fest, so I figured playing on Easy would lessen the amount of time I had to spend grinding levels, money, equipment, etc. Turns out, it didn’t. Despite doing a handful of side quests early on, thinking I was padding some money and levels, I still managed to die quite frequently. I’m not pretending I don’t sometimes suck at games, and I AM distracted by a 2 year old most of the time, but come on. I died more during this game than the entire Mass Effect trilogy… and I suck at shooters.

First of all: You will never have enough money. Ever. Not until you’re at the end of the game and haven’t found purchasable upgrades in hours of gameplay. The core of the battle set-up will explain why; there are 3 human characters (Oliver, Esther, and Swaine-the-Hobo) who you have to keep equipped. They have 3 “familiars” EACH, that all have to be given a weapon, armor, and accessory. I’m pretty bad at math, but I quickly figured out that meant I essentially had 12 party members to acquire gear for. It’s quite a hit to the wallet. I often went without buying all the upgrades for every party member/familiar just because calculating the hours I’d have to spend grinding money gave me a headache. And it wasn’t like I knew which familiar the AI was going to be using in battle so I could focus on setting up certain familiars. Which leaves me to my second point…

The AI in this game is terrible. I can’t stress it enough. Ni No Kuni is an action-RPG. You can move the avatar you’re currently controlling around to dodge attacks, grab HP and MP drops, and position yourself for attacks. At any given time, there are 3 cutesy familiars belonging to you, plus however many enemies you’ve encountered, all bumping into each other and trying to move around the others to get a hit in. So if you’re relying on physically attacking, be prepared to be yelling at the screen a lot because your familiar is spending its entire Attack gauge riding someone’s ass. And you will be relying on physical attacks during most fights because the MP costs of spells is stupidly high and MP replenishing items are expensive. The only plus-side is that characters get free refills when they level.

But that’s not my main complaint about the AI in this game. My main gripe is how the characters you aren’t controlling just don’t do what you ask them to do. There’s no fantastic Final Fantasy XII gambit system at work here. Just simple commands, like, “Go all out!” or “Keep us healthy!” I assumed “Keep us healthy!” meant what it said. Heal. But when the designated healer with the heal spells and the healing familiars is set to that, they just stand there and pick their noses while everyone in the party is a cough away from death. I figured it might be because they were low on MP. So, I’d have to change to the healer and see. Nope. still enough MP to cast healing spells (or God-forbid use a healing item). Then I’m forced to do the healing myself, taking me away from casting awesome spells or using my best physical attacker because the AI would take over the previous character I was using and make them start acting special too. I don’t get it.  It got to the point where I stopped caring and didn’t resurrect anyone unless it was the middle of a boss fight.

I’m pretty sure I would’ve hated this game less if they just made it turn-based, seeing as how they’re completely inept at creating functional AI behavior.

I also don’t understand the prioritizing and animation sequences in this game. Being a sort-of action game, you can block and dodge, and can also interrupt enemies’ attacks (if you’re lucky). Your signal to defend or evade is pretty obvious if you aren’t too distracted with swapping between characters and familiars. Enemies all have the same animation for when they’re prepping an attack you’ll most likely want to try lessening the blow. I found the window of opportunity (especially with bosses) to be frustratingly short. So short, that I already have a character in queue to use a healing item before the enemy’s attack animation begins, yet the attack goes off before I get to heal and everyone dies. It happened to me a lot. I can’t count the number of times I was in the middle of tossing a healing item and a character died. Then I had to either sit through another lengthy item-use animation with a phoenix-whatever, or cycle through my familiars trying to remember which one had the resurrection spell. The spells are all given stupid cutesy names too, which meant I had to stop and read the description if I hadn’t played in a week and forgot what did what.

The side quests got horribly tedious to the point where I just stopped doing them. Oliver, the young boy who happens to be a wizard, can somehow take aspects of a person’s heart and give them to someone else. So, say someone is overflowing with “Confidence.” You can ask them to borrow it and then give it to someone who happens to be lacking halfway across the world. Interesting concept. Except the characters feel the need to have a pointless five minute long conversation about it, where you’re just mashing X to get through it and get your merit stamps and money. I honestly just ran to the green spots on the map and mashed X without reading the dialogue. There are bounties, which aren’t too bad, because you just go find a monster and kill it. But some of the tasks were so nit-picky, like, “Only kill a monster with a certain spell,” that I didn’t even bother.

I remember one quest where the NPC wanted me to bring him certain familiars. “How do you collect familiars in Ni No Kuni?” you ask? Well. You have to beat them to a bloody pulp, of course! Then, if you’re lucky enough, the creature will become enamored with you, as made evident by pink hearts floating above their head. That’s your cue to take control of Esther and serenade them. Then they’re your pet to use and abuse as you please. Only problem is it’s totally random whether you’ll be given the opportunity to serenade them or not. After fighting enough of a certain enemy to become so powerful they actively ran away from me on the world map, making it nearly impossible to engage them in battle, and still not having that one certain familiar, I said “F this” and never tried again.

If I was prompted, I captured a familiar. Otherwise, I didn’t care. I just made do with what I had. I don’t know how it is in Pokemon, but in Ni No Kuni the abilities the pets have to choose from are so similar it isn’t worth the time to try collecting them all. I stuck the familiar types with the appropriate humans and leveled them. Like Pokemon, the creatures will evolve as they level. Unlike Pokemon, they don’t get sweet new designs… only different color palettes. Which was pretty boring. Then you get to level them all over again, because their level resets to 1. Joy.

Ni No Kuni also has alchemy, in the form of a magic genie who will combine items to make shiny new things for you. I hardly ever had the mats to make anything worthwhile. I think I made all of 5 items. So it either requires more grinding, or post-game stuff, which I have negative desire to do right now.

Have you ever been playing a game, and gotten to the point where you expect the end credits to roll, but instead get saddled with another 5-10 hours of gameplay? Yeah, that totally happens in this game. I was treated to the grand conclusion of the main story arc, fought the somewhat main villain, and thought, “Sweet. I’ll go kill so-and-so, then have another cutscene, then be done! Yay!” Except that wasn’t what happened at all. Instead, there’s way more exposition about something that, while semi-interesting, I didn’t give a lick about, then a lengthy final dungeon, then a boss fight with 3 stages that I was severely under-leveled for. I got to the final boss’ third form with relative ease… then got spanked hard. I was not happy. Under these circumstances, I browse online forums to see if I was doing something wrong. In this case, I just had to go farm about 10 levels. Seeing as how I already thought I was done the game, this did not illicit much satisfaction from me.

But I did it, because I’d already invested way too much time to give up when I was basically at the finish line. Plus I felt like I should’ve expected it; seeing as how the entire game was a big grind-fest.

I’m just realizing the irony in this. I’m pretty sure Xenoblade Chronicles is the only JRPG that’s been released within the past decade that I’ve honestly enjoyed (remasters don’t count) and I never beat that final boss. After literally playing the game for like, 70 hours. Such is life.

I will give Ni No Kuni credit where credit is due. The artwork and style are great, and certainly unique for a video game. The music tracks are very good, but unfortunately recycled a bit too often. The game also is quite courteous about letting the player know where they have to go by way of a star quest marker. Quest NPCs and bounty monsters are also clearly indicated, which I appreciated. The world is thoughtful, with unique areas and environments. The story, while bland at times, had some highlights. I also liked most of the boss designs.

With that being said, the highlights are certainly not numerous enough for me to want to play this game again, or to even dive back into it for the post-game content. In order for me to want to experience an RPG again, it has to either have above average characters and storytelling, or an exciting and fun battle system. Unfortunately for Ni No Kuni, it lacks in both of those departments.

Retro Review: Live A Live

Live A Live

 

Don’t even ask me exactly how the title is supposed to be said.

I know a lot of my posts tend to be behind the times because it takes me forever to finally get around to playing some games. At least in this case I’m actually reviewing a retro game! Not only that, it is a Squaresoft SNES game that never received a North American release. I played this fan-translation (by Aeon Genesis) on a SNES emulator, via my laptop, and we watched it on the big screen TV. Talk about a makeshift merging of technology.

Live A Live is a unique experience. Instead of being a typical story featuring a main protagonist to play as throughout the adventure, instead you’re treated to different chapters featuring different characters during different time periods. These chapters can be tackled in any order. We played them in chronological order. First we were Pogo, the caveman who lives in prehistoric times before humans could even talk. Yeah, that was an interesting chapter. Then we bounced around from the Wild West, Bakumatsu Japan, Kung Fu… all the way to the future, which was dubbed the “Sci Fi” chapter. The chapters vary not only in lengths, but in content and game style. One chapter will be a traditional JRPG, while another can have more of an action game set-up.

Live A Live Masaru

Seriously, Masaru’s chapter looks like it was taken straight out of a Megaman game!

Each chapter runs about 1-3 hours, depending on the story and how much optional content you have to choose from. If you decide not to take on an uber-difficult optional boss your first time through, don’t worry; you can always replay a chapter to get any loot or other content you missed . I really liked this set-up for a couple of reasons. If you generally dislike a certain character or time period, you’re not stuck with them for long! Some of the chapters are more Earth-shattering “Oh my God WTF just happened?!” than others. And most of them have pretty forgettable (but laughable) supporting cast.

While the basic elements of battle stay the same so you don’t have to re-learn how to play the game, each character has their own unique ability set so things stay fresh. The constant learning of moves and abilities is fun… when the enemies don’t decide to take zero damage just because.

I also liked the very subtle tie-ins. You can literally play the chapters in whichever order you desire. The overarching link is easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention. In fact, at one point Steve-O and I looked at each other and were like, “I hope we aren’t supposed to know what the hell is going on already.” It isn’t until the eight chapter (unlocked after completing the seven available at the beginning) that everything comes together in a relatively surprising twist.

As I mentioned, the overall battle system remains consistent from chapter to chapter. It certainly has its pros and cons. Live A Live has turn-based roots with some strategy elements blended in. When it is a character’s turn, you can move them around the battlefield’s square grid. Keep in mind, enemies can take their turns while you’re trying to get a character situated where you want them to be to either do damage or not take damage. I really hated that. It felt like I’d move someone one or two blocks over to get the enemy within range of their attack, only to get them hit by the enemy first! Each character’s ability in their arsenal will have a different area of effect and range. So as I said earlier, it takes a little bit of learning and practice when you’re hopping from chapter to chapter. I did really like that there is no resource pool for any moves. No MP to worry about. Some abilities have charge times, which is understandable. And if you don’t feel like toggling through the menu at each character’s turn, with the tap of a button you can have them repeat the last move they made. There won’t be many opportunities to do this, seeing as how most enemies love to dance around and ensure you can’t simply spam the same attack against them.

While playing this game, it’s important to keep in mind the generation of gaming it came from. There are many staples of the JRPG genre and old school games that make me twitch with annoyance. In no particular order, they are:

1.) Poor ability/item descriptions. Not sure if this is a translation error, but I’ve seen it in mass-produced games as well. As a little aside, the caveman’s chapter consists of silly nonsense words and sounds to serve as names for his abilities. I imagine that was a bitch to translate.

2.) Lack of direction: It isn’t hard to mindlessly wander around and not know what you are supposed to do or where you’re supposed to go. If a character has a unique ability they can use while wandering their “world map” then use it. Often.

3.) Damage Inconsistencies: Okay, maybe it is an issue of just ignorance on my part. But when a character uses an ability against an enemy and it does 5 damage in one round and the next it does 100 without one of them getting buffs or debuffs, I get confused. Then I get annoyed.

4.) No inventory arrangement options. Pure laziness, Squaresoft.

6.) Boring, traditional leveling with little-to-no feeling of advancement. You know what I mean, right? A totally passive leveling experience. Characters get experience and gain levels as well as new abilities once in a while. But the battles never feel any easier. You’ll notice their hit points changing (and some characters get WAY more HPs than others). But the battles still seem to drag on sometimes.

5.) And last, but not least… Random encounters that are harder than boss fights with no warning label attached! Especially before auto-saving became a thing. They just LOVE popping up to ruin your day, without the decency of allowing you to level up first.

Live A Live Oboro Fish

I swear, the fish was THIS big!

However, there is one missing RPG staple. Currency! There is no money in this game. In a way it makes sense, as you bounce from one character and time period to another. Yet on the other hand, I wouldn’t have minded if the more RPG-traditional chapters had currency accrual. Then I could’ve at least purchased healing items and equipment to make some of the battles less miserable. Being at the mercy of how many healing items the game feels like giving you (or how many you can find) is quite agitating in certain zones. In Ninja Assassin Oboro’s chapter, I’m pretty sure we had to fight the final boss with no healing items left and no heal spells. That was… stressful, to say the least.

While you’re wandering aimlessly or slowly plowing through some fights, you’ll be treated to amazing music! Yoko Shimomura composed this soundtrack and does not disappoint! Every song is atmospheric and contributes to the setting superbly. Each chapter you’ll be treated to new and enjoyable tracks. Definitely some of Shimomura’s best work.

I have my reservations about making too many comments regarding the final chapter. So I’ll just say this: use a walkthrough. There is a special set of armor to be unlocked and the requirements for doing so are quite random. Two examples: for one piece, you have to run away from 100 battles during the last chapter. For another piece, you have to turn away when you’re staring the final boss down, then wander in complete darkness to find an optional boss fight. Weird things that people like me forget to do. The final chapter is considerably longer than all the previous ones. If you want to level and see everything available, plan on this chapter taking you twice as long as the lengthiest chapter.

I’m quite surprised this game was never released outside of Japan. Compared to some of the other retro RPGs that made it to North America (*cough*BreathofFire2*cough) that I’ve played, this ranks pretty high. I mean, yeah, you have to have the stomach for the aforementioned list of annoyances. But Live A Live is one of those few examples of a JRPG breaking a lot of the rules of its own genre and actually accomplishing something noteworthy. In Live A Live’s case, this happened twenty years ago, and sadly not enough JRPG enthusiasts even know it exists.

Growlanser Generations

growlanser generations cover

Most of these character are supposed to be men, in case you were wondering.

As part of my quest to play and beat those PS2 games that have been collecting dust on my shelf for years, Steve-O and I spent our free time together over the last couple of months playing Growlanser Generations. Growlanser Generations includes Growlanser II and Growlanser III. Many, many moons ago I beat Growlanser II and made it about halfway through Growlanser III before shelving the game for reasons I can’t recall. It’s a fancy collector’s edition including the original soundtrack for both games (which only calls for one CD as they recycle a LOT of tunes), a pack of cards, and clunky jewelry I never wore and have no intentions of ever putting on. This was a Christmas gift from my Hubby-to-be (meaning over 7 years ago!). He bought this for me because, well, I’ve always been a lover of video games and anime. The guilt over not finishing this collection has been hanging over my head for years. With Steve-O’s assistance (Hey, someone has to grind while I chase Little One around) both games have finally been played through.

Growlanser II is the first game we played. The main character’s name is Wein. No, I am not mature enough to pass on all the wiener joke opportunities even though the pronunciation of his name doesn’t sound like wiener. Still, it is fun and he totally is a wieney at times. And he has a major lisp. Like, seriously. Sometimes it is endearing. Other times it grates at the ears. When he says “Oh, Max!” (About a hundred times throughout the short 15 hour game) I could picture him flailing his wrists around and batting his eyelashes. At least I giggled a lot at that. I did NOT giggle, however,  when Hans opened his dirty, low-born mouth. Ugh. Hans is obnoxious and a prime example of a character who is supposed to be funny but completely isn’t. I rolled my eyes whenever he spoke. I said, “Oh my God shut up!” many, many times during this game. And only to him. I always sided with Charlonne when she laid the “snotty rich bitch” attitude on him during their conversations. I’m really glad the quality of voice acting in video games and anime have improved since these games were brought over to the US because for the most part they all sucked.

I think these games are supposed to be strategy/tactical RPGs. I say “supposed” to because they emulate the genre without ever reaching that point. By the time we were halfway through Growlanser II we were under the impression the creator’s idea of “strategy” is to replay a plot mission a few times until you figure out what the hell the game is expecting you to do. Like many strategy RPGs, before the beginning of a plot battle the screen flashes your mission objectives. You’re told what to do to keep from getting a game over, such as “All Enemies Destroyed.” Both Growlanser games have “Mission Clear” and “Mission Complete” notifications at the end of each battle but your battle conditions screen never tells you how to get the superior “Mission Complete.” That is up to guessing as well, and during the first half of the game before we got super-powerful gems and gear we certainly didn’t have the gumption after already restarting the same fight three times to try again for a Mission Complete.

Back to that guessing game business. Many times the game will have those annoying battle conditions to shake things up, but it is never very clear as to what you’re supposed to do. There’s the run-of-the-mill “Do not let more than X number of civilians die” objectives. These are painful. Keeping your OWN group alive is difficult enough when halfway through the fight the game pops enemies on top of your mages (after the first couple of fights it’ll  become a given) and they start your entire party on top of each other so your melee characters spend the first five minutes of a time sensitive fight riding each other’s asses because they don’t know how to walk AROUND each other. And whether you’re saving NPC civilians or guards, you can’t expect the soldiers on your side whom you have no control over to actually be any good. No, even ally soldiers who look equipped to the teeth in heavy plated armor still can’t seem to take more than two hits from an enemy soldier. It’s like they are wearing cleverly disguised toilet paper as armor. Oh, and enemy soldiers love to spam powerful Tech attacks which magically seem to always stun whatever they hit. It’s almost funny, Our Perimeter Pulse move barely managed to stun anything. It’s uneven odds that like that frustrated me a lot, on top of poor AI pathing mechanics, and uncertain battle objectives which I’m finally getting to. You’ll be told something like “Set the fort on fire” with no indication as to how you’re supposed to do it. Normally, it involves getting your character(s) to a certain spot of the map before getting pummeled to death. There’s a Tech skill called “Dash” which makes the character move a LOT faster. The game lets you think it is optional. it is NOT. In fact, I suggest you get it first before learning anything else. For every character that can learn it. Because when you’re not standing your ground you’re running from one side of the map to another (or chasing enemies trying to run away) within a certain amount of time and doing so without Dash is nearly impossible.

On the bright side, unlike games like Final Fantasy Tactics, you don’t have a grid to worry about or each character having a certain amount of squares they can move per turn. If you tell someone to move somewhere, they’ll get there… eventually. You have relatively open maps with stairs and bridges, stuff like that. No,  your obstacles are the unexpected: characters getting stuck on each other and on their surroundings. They’ll walk against a rock for the rest of the battle until you finally say, “Hey, what is Xenos doing?” and notice he’s in the corner playing with himself. Then you have to manually instruct him to do otherwise.

Now that that mini-rant is out of the way, let’s get further into the game mechanics.

Growlanser games have a pretty traditional RPG level up system. Whenever a character levels, you’re given Master Points to assign as you deem fit. These points can be assigned to passive Skills such as Hit Up, Max HP Up, Quicken Aria, etc.; Magic to learn healing and offensive spells; and Techs, which are abilities to be used in battle like Knockback, Dash, and Critical Hit. The usefulness of each category is dependent on the characters for the most part. Except Dash. Everyone needs Dash. Chances are you’ll want most of the passive skills as well because they tend to be tailored to each character’s needs. Mages are more likely to be able to learn Quicken Aria and Max MP Up, while the meleers get Equip Limit Up and status effect additions to their attacks. Those came in pretty handy… Growlanser games have a mean poison!

RPGs are well known for equipment management. Well, in Growlanser games, you have one piece of equipment to worry about, and it is a simple matter of “go to next town and purchase whatever equipment upgrades my characters can wear if I have the money.” That’s because your real micro-managing is with your rings and gems. Everyone in the playable party is a Ring Master: they wear special rings that turn into customized weapons for each character. Wein’s ring weapon is a scythe, for example. You never worry about equipping weapons or a weapon’s stats. What the player needs to focus on is the rings you are putting on each character. Not only do rings come with stat adjustments, they also have up to 3 gem slots which range in values from 0 to 9. For example: if you equip a ring with gem slots that read “7-5-2” this means you can equip up to a level 7 gem in the first slot, up to a level 5 gem in the second slot, and up to a level 2 gem in the third slot. The higher level the gem, the more powerful the ability. Most of the time. Many times this requires sacrificing stats for better item slots. A ring could have 40 attack power but if it has 1-0-0 for gem slots you’re never going to wear it.

Gems can do some pretty crazy things. Having the right gems on can make or break a situation. There are gems that can allow you to steal, give you stat boosts upon leveling up, make a character immune to magic, and teach a mage every single spell, for starters. The most crucial one, that is too easy to miss, is the level 9 Transport Wings. This gem will make your Indirect (Indirect=Ranged) attack dealer the new star of the party. This game has obnoxious line of sight issues and invisible attack range barriers. When characters get stuck on rocks and each other these factors can make some really frustrating situations until this amazing gem comes into play. With Transport Wings, your indirect attacker can hit anything on the map, anywhere. Group that with Hans’ innate speed (made even more extraordinary by leveling/stat boosting gems) and the plethora of status ailments he has a chance of inflicting on enemies with his attacks, and suddenly Hans was able to kill half the enemies on the map before the melee characters could get into position. As much as we couldn’t stand him, he became one of the game’s saving graces.

This specific gem was far too easy to miss, which comes to one of my big complaints about this game that they thankfully fixed in Growlanser III. Navigating the world in Growlanser II is a bit like Final Fantasy Tactics. You have a world map and every area you are able to visit is nothing more than a shiny dot on your screen. You click on where you want to go and the main character follows, sometimes getting into random fights along the way. When arriving at your destination, a menu pops up with your list of options. This is how you “visit” shops and inns, and speak with important NPCs for plot and side quest purposes. The issue here is that if you don’t click on every damn spot on the map in between every bit of dialogue or plot advancement, you permanently miss out on chances to gain side quests and build relationships with your party members. It is pretty frustrating, especially when we were innocently strolling along and accidentally went the way we were “supposed” to go first after not playing the game for a few days and forgetting which city we were supposed to go next. If the game even told us where we were supposed to go. We found out after the fact that we missed out on the chain quest to get the Transport Wings gem. So… we cheated and inputted the code to gain all the gems and rings in the entire game. VERY handy. Very cheating, but very handy. And at that point we didn’t care anymore.

Especially considering the fact that because of this game’s closed door policy with its side quests, we seemed to have missed out on a playable character that is in the game’s opening cut scene for crying out loud! How do you do that to someone? Honestly! We filled our final slot with some boring generic guy named Brent who didn’t even have eyes!  On top of that, I’m pretty sure we got the worst possible scenarios for everything and we somehow had the highest affinity with Hans, the character we hated the most and intentionally were a complete jerk to him during his dialogue scenes. He must thrive on rejection or something.

Let’s talk about magic. I love magic in video games, though it is definitely hit-or-miss depending on how the developers decide to implement it. Is magic with using in the Growlanser games I played? Yes and no. One really, really awesome feature is the ability to cast buffs outside of battle. That’s right, you can Attack Up, Cycle Up and Shield your characters before entering the fray. AND the game is kind enough to inform you that Attack Up and Shield (as well as certain debuffs) can stack up to three times! This is definitely a live-safer during some of the more difficult and/or time sensitive plot battles. By the time we were playing Growlanser III we were making a point to put all of our buffs up before entering our next storyline destination. Otherwise, using magic is a pain in the arse until later in the game. It takes SO long to cast damage spells that actually do worthwhile damage, and your character’s MP pools are so God awfully small, and… get this… in Growlanser II there are NO consumable items. None. So if your mage runs out of MP, guess what, they get to pick their nose for the rest of the fight because there’s no way you’ll voluntarily throw them in the midst of battle only to die if an enemy looks at them cross-eyed. This is not saying they won’t get themselves killed anyway, because the game absolutely loves filling the battle screen with all kinds of ranged enemies who are smart enough to concentrate all their fire on your squishy mages. Or ally NPCs who seem to be wearing nothing but tissue paper for armor.

Despite your frustration during plot fights, you’ll find yourself laughing at the enemy death lines because they are hilarious. Just as you’re dealing the final blow and saying “Take THAT you prick!” the dying soldier will say something hilarious like, “How dare you kill me to death!” or something else equally ridiculous. Otherwise, the writing is about as cheesy as it gets. Xenos, the resident heavy-hitting meatshield, has some particularly charming lines that we fell in love with.

Let’s move on to Growlanser III. Growlanser III took the foundation laid by its predecessor and built upon it to create a longer, and more involving RPG. Many of the glaring issues with II are still present, like the terrible pathing system and cloudy mission objectives. In fact, there is one other annoyance I don’t remember coming across during Wein’s adventure: lag. Growlanser III loaded the screen with enemies and allies and everything in between, causing significant lag during multiple fights. Lag that mysteriously didn’t seem to affect the move or wait time of my enemies, yet made my characters act like they were trying to fight in a puddle of mud up to their armpits. So other than that pesky lag issue, Growlanser III is better than its predecessor when the developers actually felt the need to go out of their way to maybe make a different or better gaming experience.

One of the main differences you’ll notice at first is the addition of an interactive world map! Yes, like many other RPGs, we could now walk around the world map from town to town and dungeon to dungeon. Though you won’t want to waste too much time in dungeons. They are painfully boring (even by long RPG grinding standards). The developer’s idea of adding dungeons was to create a big block maze with randomized square rooms that may or may not have enemies, and may or may not have loot. And 99.9% of the time the loot was  not worth going for (and we didn’t even cheat in this game) and halfway through the dungeons the EXP left much to be desired. You even get to explore towns and actually enter inns, approach shop stands, and watch NPCs go about their every day lives. It is important to speak to all the NPCs as well. They’ll randomly hand out goodies or side quest items.

Unlike the previous installment, Growlanser III gives you a central hub to utilize for various purposes. You get a restaurant, and can recruit merchants to sell you all kinds of goodies. Viktor, the friendly Russian scientist, has a lab where he creates consumable items for you, including stat enhancing apples! Oh yes, and in battle items! I cannot explain how much of a relief it was to be able to pop an elixir instead of waiting for a mage running low on MP to cast Heal on a dying party member. It’s the little things I appreciate, really.

Viktor is a pretty important character, especially considering he hijacks your party on multiple occasions so he can fix the teleportation devices to make them useful. Because, you know, finding them wasn’t enough. By the time you can teleport from city to city it will be a welcome relief. The central hub is also where you can race fellow party members (WTF?) and change up your party. Another big difference. Instead of controlling the same eight characters for the entire adventure you only get 4 at a time, but you can swap them out at your complex in Voltone. Where you also have access to astounding (sarcasm) conversation options with the other characters. There isn’t an obvious affinity bar like in Growlanser II. You’ll know if things are going well, trust me. And if you play your cards right you can unlock some extra stuff to do.

Another reason I liked Growlanser III more is because you have greater customization with rings and gems. There are gems in this game that will duplicate rings and gems if you take the time to do it. There are also items called Fairy Tears that will increase ring levels on gems! This means if you find a ring with favorable stats, you can increase the ring levels on it to 9-9-9 and duplicate it as many times as you like. Voila! We pimped out our party pretty quickly once we found a ring that was a keeper! It made inventory management a whole lot easier, because enemies drop all kinds of ring fodder that clutters up your inventory pretty quickly. Once we had our ideal set up, we could sell everything with a clear conscience without taking a whole lot of time carefully reviewing the stats on each one. In comparison, Growlanser II just feels like you’re never really getting ahead, and you’re at the mercy of receiving whatever rings or gems the game feels like giving you.

Overall, I can’t give a particularly sterling review of these games. They’re part of a niche market that I feel is dying off, and even then this isn’t a great example of a Japanerific strategy RPG. Newcomers to the genre are better off sticking with well-established classics like Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem. The story and characters in the Growlanser games I played aren’t good enough to keep the average gamer plowing through the game if they get frustrated or stuck. I do think these games are playable and beatable for most gamers, provided they’re either especially patient or don’t mind consulting the internet. If you’re an RPG/tactical RPG veteran looking to expand your repertoire, it can’t hurt to give these games a go.

Dragon Fantasy Book 1

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It’s Dragon Quest! It’s Final Fantasy! No, it’s Dragon Fantasy!

I’m still coming down from the high of playing another fun indie gem. I’ll bet you thought my next post would be about The Last of Us. As hubby and I are playing the game through together (playing Naughty Dog’s games together has become one of our things) and we just finished a week of  “camping,” we unfortunately haven’t had as much time to play as we’d like. I did sneak my PS Vita along for the vacation and was able to sink a few hours into Dragon Fantasy.

Dragon Fantasy was made for people like me. I love old school RPGs. The lengthy dungeons and difficulty have a certain nostalgic charm to them. I also love media that is not shy about poking fun at itself. And boy, does Dragon Fantasy poke fun at itself and the genre. I knew I would enjoy this game when I fought Mr. and Mrs. Rock Monster on the world map. I won’t spoil the narration, but suffice it to say the silly one-liners and dialogue will have you chuckling.

I played the Playstation 3/Vita version of this game. It includes features such as trophies, cross-saving, and enhanced graphics and music.  This means you can swap between 8-bit NES or 16-bit SNES styles on the fly. I had a hard time deciding which I liked better. It really just depended on my mood. Although I think I like the battle theme in 8-bit style better.

Dragon Fantasy is also the only game I’ve ever earned 100% of the trophies for (I hope that gives you a general idea of how much I generally care about trophies). When I looked at the trophy list it wasn’t long or difficult, and I was also looking for a little more life out of this game since it is rather short, so I mopped up the leftover trophies after my first playthrough of all four chapters. I didn’t get a platinum trophy, but I wouldn’t really feel like I earned it because getting all the trophies in this game was really easy.

Dragon Fantasy is divided into four different chapters, so I’ll give a brief overview and opinion on each chapter.

Chapter 1: Dragon Fantasy- This is Ogden’s story. Being the longest of the four chapters, it is hard not to think of this as the main plot with the others offering supplemental information that fleshes out the story. Ogden is past his prime, having served the Queen of Westeria for many years. He is bald, thanks to losing his hair fighting a dragon when he was 16. No word on why his hair never grew back. Or how the dragon managed to miss his ginger beard. Anyway, instead of being smart and retiring, he lets “Woodsman” talk him into going on an adventure to gather legendary armor so he can battle the nefarious Dark Knight who completely embarrassed him in the scripted loss at the start of the game.

Not only is Ogden’s chapter the longest, but it is also the hardest. My advice is to enter this chapter with the following mindset: You NEED to grind and you NEED to heal. A lot. Like, between each encounter. I tried doing a “speed run” because I’m an idiot and saved over my Ogden game before I decided to go back and “read” all the books for the trophy. Doing a “speed run” without taking time to grind for a couple of good pieces of gear between dungeons wasn’t really happening. I ended up pausing to grind just like the first time I played this chapter. It is a fact of old school JRPGs anyway, only lightened by the fact that this is a short game so you won’t spend 30 hours of your life doing it.

Ogden is completely alone during his entire chapter. This means you have one character to rely on for healing and damage, thus the main reason his chapter is the hardest. My only issue with this was when I got screwed while fighting Obligatory Orcs. More than once the orc literally pummeled me to death while I was taking a nap. Then I got to trek all the way back to the volcano from the nearest town and do it all over again. In Dragon Fantasy, when you die you res at your last save (in a church) without losing any progress. The catch is you lose half of your money. Losing money was a big deal for me in about the first 3/4s of Ogden’s chapter.  So, you end up debating whether you want to take the hit in your wallet or lose any levels you gained and/or treasure chests you already opened.

Chapter 2: The Heir Unapparent- This chapter follows Prince Anders. His brother, Prince Marlon, is kidnapped in the beginning of the game. Anders is lucky enough to get booted back into the castle and escape via a secret passageway with a soldier named Chest Manstrong. I know, he has the best name ever. As you can see, this chapter starts off with multiple party members! If you play your cards right, you can have a full party to adventure with. Beware, Casty the caster has a retardedly low MP pool when you first recruit her. Remember the Final Fantasy days when Ethers were stupidly expensive and only restored a trifle amount of MP? The creators of Dragon Fantasy remember too. Ethers are cleverly disguised as Potato Juice in this game. Because of how scant her MP pool and spell list are, I equipped Casty with a Hammer and demoted her to heal bitch when needed. Anders gets a ton of cool offensive spells anyway.

I liked this chapter due to the multiple party members addition and how open it was compared to Ogden’s story. I actually sidestepped Derwent and Lakehaven the first time I played and went straight for the Trials. Maybe not the smartest thing to do, but I did it and survived just fine. I am a fan of using magic, and thanks to Anders’ awesome magic spells and having more than one party member I was able to use magic for more than just healing. Trust me… Ogden’s MP pool will be conserved for healing.

Chapter 3: Operation Desert Plunder- Ah, Jerald. He is one of those “thieves with a good heart stealing for the right reasons” kinda characters. In Jerald’s case, you spend his chapter going on missions to earn enough money to purchase passports for himself and his niece, Ramona. She is also a playable party member. This chapter builds on the awesomeness of Chapter 2. Here, you have multiple party members. Except now you also fight more than one monster per encounter.  And SKILLS! Like Steal! I am a loot whore and love stealing items from enemies. In fact, when I began Jerald’s chapter, I wandered around the world map without really knowing what I was doing. I entered a dungeon alone (bad idea in these types of games) and I was even able to sustain myself with the Herbs stolen from the monsters. Stealing has about as high a success rate as you would imagine, but I still somehow managed to never run out of herbs.

As with Anders’ chapter, this is pretty free roaming. Once you go to the thieves’ guild you can choose in which order you want to tackle your dungeon lootfests. Or you can do what I did and spend half an hour looting the innocent townsfolk of their money. Didn’t take me long to get that trophy. The other skills besides Steal were lackluster at best.

Intermission M: Minecraft homage/parody thing! This is a humorous side-story in which you get to recruit monsters and experience some Minecraft parodying. Unfortunately I can’t appreciate this as much as other people. I’ve never played Minecraft. I’ve only watched other people play and seen very creative bits on Youtube and such. I won’t say much about this except if you like Minecraft play it now!

A few general observations about the game. The miss rate is pretty obnoxious. From what I’ve read, it was even worse before it was patched. Missing an enemy with your weapon 2-3 times in a row is not unheard of. The monsters do have this same miss rate, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying. I played Dragon Fantasy on both the PS3 and Vita. Moreso on the Vita. There was one instance when my character wasn’t moving and I thought my game froze on me. After pressing a ton of buttons I didn’t lose my progress. I didn’t really like how the joystick on the Vita worked with the game. I found my character moving in directions that confused me. Otherwise, it is a relatively seamless experience.

I purchased Dragon Fantasy for $9.99 on the PSN. This includes both a PS3 and Vita version of the game. I checked the iOS store and saw it for $7.99 there. I’m on the fence about recommending this game for full price. If you’re not a retro RPG enthusiast, you’re probably better off waiting for this game to go on sale. I went trophy grinding and I’d still say I didn’t spend more than 12 hours playing this game. I enjoyed it more on the Vita because, let’s face it, grinding for money and experience is more tolerable when done in short bursts nowadays. But if you’re dying for a nostalgic NES or SNES RPG and can’t settle on a game you’ve already played, Dragon Fantasy should hold you over and give you some laughs to  boot.

My Ten Favorite Video Games

Here it is, ladies, gents, and everyone in between. My Top Ten! I had a hard enough time choosing ten games to name above all the others that I’ve played, so I did not give them set rankings. Games, like all other art mediums, cannot always be fairly compared to each other due to their stark differences. A critic worth their salt isn’t going to rate an oil painting with the same criteria as an ice sculpture. Therefore, I surely can’t say an action game is better than a puzzle game because the bases for comparison are vastly different, except for the basic fun and immersion factors. What this means for my list is that I tried to get a comprehensive collection from different genres. I could easily (and maybe later do) a 10 favorite RPGs list because that is the genre I play the most of. But I think a more varied list appreciating other game genres is appropriate and more reflective of my gaming experiences. So, without further adieu…

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Super Mario Brothers 2

I love me some old school Mario games, and none so much as this title. It’s a Doki Doki Panic revamp, making it a black sheep in the Mario-verse, but I love it. Whenever I get a hankering to play an old Mario title, it’s almost always SMB2. You get to play as Princess Toadstool, and not the joke Princess Peach in Super Princess Peach who makes the feminazi in me rage. No, Princess Toadstool gets down and dirty with the boys in this game, throwing enemies around and kicking butt without a stupid parasol and PMS freakouts. Oh, and did I mention she can hover? If you cheat with a Game Genie (and oh, cheat I did), you can enter a code which makes her fly for entire levels if you so desire. Ideally, you would choose the most suitable character for each level I guess. But screw that, I only play as Princess!

After all these years, I can still do many levels with my eyes closed (like that level in world 4 where all the Beezos are flying at you, and if you don’t want to get hit you need to do a well executed series of jumps, ducks, and ducking while jumping), and I still remember where all the warp “pots” are. I liked not being on a timer in this game. It gives the player more time to explore and learn the areas. I mean, who didn’t try digging up every single square of sand? Or seeing how long they could bait the Phanto with a key before getting hit? As quirky as the enemy designs were, for the most part I think they’re pretty cool and unique.

I will also never forget my reaction when the Eagle-mouth-doorway-thingy dislodged itself and started trying to attack me! I almost shat myself. It was such a great moment, I only have one other old school game moment that compares, so I guess I’ll do that game next.

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Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

I like my old school 2D Link adventures. Another black sheep I guess, since it’s pretty much an alternate reality experience with some Super Mario nods thrown in. Its charming in a strange way and a nice change in pace from saving Zelda, Hyrule, and collecting triforce pieces. Instead, Link is stranded on Koholint Island and must traverse 8 dungeons and collect special instruments to escape (Play 8 magical instruments to awaken the Wind Fish? Huh?). How does he know this? A wise owl told him, of course.

So about that ‘young me almost shat myself experience.’ I may have shop lifted, say, a couple of times, from that shopkeeper in the starting town. I don’t suggest you do it. If you do, he KILLS YOU with a LASER next time you go in! Second grade me freaked out and did not play this game again for months. Literally. I could not believe it. What a morality lesson! It didn’t stop me from stealing in real life, but hey, actual WalMart cashiers don’t come at you with laser beam guns. I haven’t tried shoplifting in a Zelda game since, so I don’t know if you get capital punishment for this crime or not in other entries.

Upgrading the wallet, which I always thought was kinda dumb, is absent from this game. I like the weapon and special item selections as well. Collecting seashells was cool and I wanted to get every single one. I definitely ran that poor shovel into the ground. Running into a tree could make rupees or a seashell come out… Oh boy. I definitely ran into every tree too. And, if you poke the sword into a wall and hear a hollow “tink,” then it’ll open up a passageway if you drop a bomb in front of it. I definitely poked every wall possible, too. Thinking back on it, I definitely got my mileage out of that poor Game Boy.

In order to navigate the final dungeon (I.E.- tunnels in the wind fish’s egg) you first needed to use the magnifying glass on the mysterious book in the village’s library that you couldn’t read before. It reveals a series of arrows. So if you get all the way to the final dungeon you’re screwed if you didn’t look at the book and write down the arrows or commit them to memory. I remember carrying around a little slip of paper in my Game Boy travel case with the directional sequence written on it for months. Ah, good times.

If you like the old 2D LoZ games but haven’t played this one, you absolutely need to. It is a very strong entry in the series and shouldn’t be dismissed just because it was on a portable system. To my knowledge, it has been released on Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and you can now download it onto a 3DS via the Nintendo EStore!

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Mega Man VI

I just had to put a Mega Man game on here, and VI is the entry that stole a lot of my childhood (and sanity) from me. Anyone who has played a NES Mega Man title knows the frustrating (and satisfying) feeling of trudging through one of these games. It really can be equated to self-induced torture sometimes. The memorization (which takes lots of repetition for someone like me) and flawless execution required to master some of the levels and bosses in these games is just crazy. And NOTHING matches the feeling of being this close to killing a robot master before dying and having no more lives left. On the plus side, no one will make fun of you for jumping up off the couch and doing a victory dance after finally killing your first Robot Master.

Everything about Megaman VI makes it tower over the other NES entries for me. The levels, the bosses, the music, the weapons, the awesome RUSH goodies. I also love all things Ancient Greek and Greek Mythology. Therefore, Centaur Man is the man. I’m a total dork and still listen to the soundtrack to this game. None of the other Mega Man games can say they’ve earned that level of nostalgia. MMVI is the basis of comparison for all other Mega Man games. You’ll quite often hear me say “That reminds me of such-and-such from VI.” I know I don’t make much sense, since Mega Man VI came after I-V and was criticized as being redundant and lacking originality (a robot master tournament with robots programmed to take over the world? Sounds original to me in a laughable sort of way). I find that criticism a moot point because ALL the Mega Man games up to that point were just rehashing the first game. They all have themed stages with a boss, who, upon defeat, gives up a new weapon that = KILL MODE to a certain boss,  and have final stages you need to traverse after killing all the robot masters. They all have ridiculous excuses for story lines and bosses. And that’s how it should be.

Thanks to the internet and a host of dedicated gamers, replaying Mega Man oldies is less frustrating than the good old days. Robot Master weakness charts are all over the internet. Outside of memorizing frustrating one-hit kills in levels and Robot Master fighting patterns (jump, jump, JUMP ON TOP OF MEGA MAN) the rest of your time is spent playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” trying to figure out what each boss’ weakness is. Without the trial and error, you can usually make a chump out of a boss on the first or second attempt… And usually by then you’ll have the level committed to memory like the back of your hand. I realize a lot of gamers would probably pick Megaman II over this one, but it just doesn’t stick with me like VI does. It is harder, not more fun. Besides, charging the Mega Buster is where it’s at.

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Dance Dance Revolution: Max 2

Go on, laugh it up.  Before you totally throw my credibility out the window, let me clarify something here. On my hidden Top Ten agenda, I asked myself “How many times have I or would I replay this game?” If a game can get me to keep coming back for more, it definitely has to be one of my personal favorites. Based on that criteria alone, DDR certainly makes the cut. I have been playing DDR games on and off for over a decade, and I STILL have not mastered every song. I’d say that earns it a metric ton of replayability points. DDR was innovative and creative for its time. And, say what you will about the series, these games got lazy gamers like me off of our arses and sweating like pigs.

The DDR games have changed a little over the years, though the core game play remains the same: Step on the arrows when they reach the top of the screen. Trust me, the execution is more difficult than the concept alludes. However, each entry in the series has different game modes in which you unlock more songs, play modes, or background dancer designs/outfits. I was awfully let down with the PS3 Dance Dance Revolution when I saw it did not have the background dancers. Sure they were silly, but I loved watching Naoki get down with his bad self. There was NO way I was gonna put an EyeCam on top of my TV and stare at my gross, sweaty self. That’s such a teeny bopper “I’m skinny and popular and I’m gonna dance to Britney Spears” marketing gimmick. The DDR games have had to start selling themselves to the mainstream, but I try not to let it bother me too much. I understand they need to sell a certain number of copies to justify making more. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the popular American songs are also the easiest and therefore appealing more to the casual DDR player. But as long as they still include my J-pop and trance beats I shall remain satiated.

I chose Max 2 because it has my favorite song selection (aside from missing “Sakura”), the workout mode works exactly like it should (don’t know why they changed it in the PS3 DDR) and it has some of the most whacked-out fluctuating background designs ever. When I got good enough at “Drifting Away” to start paying attention to what was going on in the background I definitely did a triple-take. It’s trippy, to say the least.

Getting started in the DDR-verse is cheaper than ever nowadays. If you love video games, dance music, and don’t want to go to the gym or track where other people can SEE you trying to sweat off some pounds, buy a copy of the game and a dance pad so you can shake your money maker in the privacy of your own home without a monthly subscription!

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Dead Island

I’ve always loved killing zombies. In the last couple of years I’ve opened up to open exploration games as well. When I explain Dead Island to someone, it is simple: Killing zombies meets open-world exploration RPG, what’s not to love? And there is very little to not love in this game. The developers were jerks and threw in sequences where you have to kill post-apocalyptic gangster opportunists (and I would definitely rank these sections as the game’s weak points) but other than that, and some minor glitches I am hoping will be absent from the sequel, I really have few faults to find with this game. It is absolutely freakin’ awesome. I already wrote a lengthy blog post praising this game, so I won’t bore you with what I’ve already said. All I have to add is that April 23 cannot come soon enough.

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God of War

As I mentioned in my Mega Man VI blurb, I love all things Ancient Greek/Greek Mythology. I also happen to thoroughly enjoy action games and gratuitous violence. The God of War series fits the formula to be considered in my top ten games, and is a shining example of great console exclusives. I have played every God of War release, and am eagerly anticipating the next entry in the series. I’ve partaken in the multiplayer beta for Ascension, which I was skeptical about at first. After spending a couple of nights in the Hercules forum I can say they have done a great job incorporating the GoW battle system and atmosphere in a multiplayer setting.

In these games you play as Kratos, my favorite anti-hero. He is a former Spartan soldier who strives to get revenge on Ares, and later, all of Mount Olympus, and he doesn’t care what he has to do or who he has to kill to achieve his goal. Really, more video games need characters like this. After killing your first handful of innocent civilians you’ll be asking yourself, “Wait, am I the good guy here?” If memory serves, you actually receive red orbs (ability/weapon upgrade currency) for killing them in certain sections.

The pacing in GoW is practically perfect. I don’t like it when games dump fifty abilities on you at the beginning of the game and expect you to be able to learn and execute all of them at once. Nor do I appreciate feeling powerless the entire game, either. In GoW, you will gradually upgrade your magic and life bars via items found in treasure chests (Phoenix Feathers and Gorgon Eyes, respectively) and upgrade your weapons to unlock new abilities for them by opening chests and doing lots of killing! The weapon upgrades make sense and the abilities are usually easy enough to pull off at will. Extra skill is needed for timed parrying, blocking, dodging and counters. Kratos’ chain blades are also one of the coolest weapons ever. Even basic attacks manage to look stylish, and it cuts down on boring running over to the enemy time. There are other weapons besides the chain blades, but they’re hardly worth using until they get significantly beefed up in GoW3.

For all my praising of this series, I will admit I’m not crazy about the super arbitrary puzzles, especially in the first game. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself asking the television, “Who the heck would think to do that?” because I definitely did a couple of times. I also believe, in terms of storyline, the series has run its course. GoW3 was supposed to be the end (and that was after two PSP entries were tacked on) and now there is a new title, Ascension slated for release on March 12. I can’t help but wonder what’s the point… besides milking more money out of consumers, anyway.

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Bayonetta

It was a toss-up between this and Lollipop Chainsaw, but Bayonetta won out due to the superior in-depth battle mechanics and wealth of unlockable goodies that’ll certainly keep gamers coming back for more. Plus, I honestly think Bayonetta paved the way for LC. Aside from having a female protagonist, sexually-laden humor and lots of stylized action sequences, they’re very different so check them both out! While LC deals with a high school girl killing zombies, Bayonetta is, well, a witch who kills angels.

If you like the stylized demon killing in Devil May Cry, you’ll be impressed with the fighting. The games share the same director, Hideki Kamiya, and it shows. But while Dante tries being edgy and hot with his one-liners and falls short, Bayonetta picks up his slack. I laughed out loud all throughout playing this game. The ridiculousness is funny and over the top. If you take all your games with uber seriousness, this gem wasn’t meant for you. I was disappointed near the end when the writers started trying to take themselves seriously. It started loosing credibility to me at that point. The ‘plot’ got ridiculous and didn’t make much sense to me. Hopefully Bayonetta 2 will ride on all the great aspects of the first game: goofy characters, outlandish and fast-paced action, raunchy humor, and awesome enemy designs and take the whole package to the next level.

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Parasite Eve

Reading is another one of my hobbies. When I discovered Squaresoft developed a video game based on an award winning Japanese sci-fi novel, I had to check it out. And, as an added bonus, the main character is a woman– a common theme in my top ten list, you’ll notice before I’m done. If my memory serves, Parasite Eve may even be the first mature-rated game I ever played, but I can’t say for sure. I purchased it at GameStop when I was in high school… way back before they figured out mature movies and video games made us all violent, twisted individuals.

I have to say I really like what Squaresoft did with it. Translating books directly into video games wasn’t as common as it is nowadays and Squaresoft totally pulled it off. The game managed to hold onto the B-movie sci-fi atmosphere while incorporating role-playing and survival game elements. The ongoing tension between the main character, Aya Brea, and the antagonist “Eve,” totally had me reeled in until the game finally explained the precarious bond between them. The “take me seriously” dialogue still sings to my quirky sci-fi loving side. The music is catchy and I still listen to the soundtrack from time to time.

The sexuality rating is largely credited to the “naked” (though she doesn’t have any nipples) and pregnant Eve you fight near the end of the game in an awesome showdown located at the fallen Statue of Liberty. Then, spoilers be damned, you get license to kill her baby. Dead Space and Dante’s Inferno have crossed that bar as well, but PE was definitely my first mutant-baby destroying experience. The Ultimate Being, Eve’s artificially inseminated offspring, is a great example of what a final boss fight should be like in a RPG. He basically morphs… and morphs… and morphs… and morphs again… and even after you dish out a world of pain, he can still one-hit-kill you in the final chase sequence. It’ll have you bashing your head against the wall if you take a wrong turn when the pile of green slime is coming after you, but it is so worth it.

I also love Parasite Eve because it is a solid, rewarding RPG experience that can be completed in less than ten hours. I don’t have all the gaming time I used to have, so this is a great bonus. Plus, if you’re interested in devoting the time, there’s a New Game+ mode so you can keep beefing up your choice gun and armor and tackle the 99 story Chrysler Tower–and earn yourself an alternate boss fight and ending to boot!

In terms of the Parasite Eve fandom, I’ve read the English translation of the novel, watched the subtitled version of the Japanese movie, and played the games. Don’t even waste your time with Parasite Eve 2 and 3. Like a lot of sequels I have gripes with, they tried turning the series into something it wasn’t meant to be. First with PE2 it was trying too hard to be Resident Evil. Then with PE3 it was trying too hard to be, I don’t even know, a fast-paced action game. Or just a bad game, really.

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Xenosaga III: Also Spoke Zarathustra

I’m still a little sore that the Xenosaga series got slashed from the projected five installments down to three. I blame Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose, for turning off the core fan base with the absolutely terrible battle system. Which is a pity, because Xenosaga’s strength has always been the story, and Episode II did well in that regard… It was just painful getting from point A to point B.

I’ll admit, the Xeno series isn’t for everyone. The first game in the trilogy, Der Wille Zur Macht, was criticized for the overly generous portions of exposition. Gamers like myself, who played the predecessor Xenogears, knew what we were getting ourselves in for though. For those of you who don’t know what you’re getting yourselves into, try imagining the content of, say, a science fiction fantasy book series that’s about a dozen novels long, each book averaging 700 pages. These books would be overflowing with vast environments, well-written and believable characters. And the plot would be something like showcasing humanity’s struggle to survive alongside cyborgs, realians and clones, all trying to fight off an ‘alien’ threat killing them from another plane of existence.  And none of that includes the even more complicated ‘grander scheme’ going on as well. Throw all of that into a turn-based RPG and you might have a better idea of what Xenosaga is all about.

I really cannot begin to explain the epicness that is the Xenosaga plot. All I can say is that, at times, it seems like you need advanced degrees in religion and philosophy to truly appreciate what these games are doing to your mind. The episode titles are in German, due to heavy borrowing from the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (obviously). There is even a character named Wilhelm in the series, who, well, certainly earns his namesake.

I chose Also Sprach Zarathustra because I found it a harmonious blend of the previous installments. The battle system took the best elements of the first two and created its own beast. Episode III starts off confusing due to the writers trying to wrap up plot points in games cut from production (Namco released a flash video with original scores and dialogue prepared for the cut games in Japanese, and there is a fansub available online titled “The Missing Years,” for anyone interested…) but once it picks up you won’t regret all the time you invested in the series. By the end of Xenogears and the Xenosaga trilogy, the writers had me seriously contemplating pretty much every mystery of the human experience: death, love, religion, sexuality, morality, humanity…. There really are few video games or movies or television shows that I can say the same for. Aside from my last Top Ten entry, this is the only video game that had me bawling once everything was said and done.

Oh, and the musical score is… Wow. The music in all the Xeno games rank high with me, but the soundtrack in Episode III is remarkable.  Yuki Kajiura truly outdid herself with this one.

If I’ve peaked your interest, you can download Xenogears on the Playstation Network for around $10, I believe. It is the Playstation game that inspired the Xenosaga trilogy, and if you like it, you should definitely continue on in the adventure. I’m hard pressed to recommend Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose, because the gameplay is tedious and boring. The only thing that got me through were the characters and story: both of which you can read about in Episode III thanks to the Xeno-bible the developers were kind enough to throw in there. Personally, I’m thinking about starting an online petition to get them to make an episode 2.5 so we get to see everything we missed!

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Final Fantasy X

I could have loaded this post with mostly Final Fantasy games, but hundreds of better reviewers have already written everything there is to write about the series. Not to mention that would be pretty boring and best saved for a “Favorite RPGs” post. After a lot of soul-searching I’ve decided upon this pinnacle in the Final Fantasy franchise. In my opinion, FF games rate as either “Before FFX” or “After FFX.” The “Before” games represent the best JRPGs have ever had to offer. “The After,” well, let’s just say something in the magical formula has been missing for quite some time. Final Fantasy X puts the “Final” in Final Fantasy for me.

Final Fantasy X was released when I was in high school. I hadn’t yet saved up the money to buy a PS2, so one of my friends let me borrow his PS2, copy of FFX, and a memory card. I was absolutely hooked. I don’t think my family saw me for two weeks. If I wasn’t at school or work, I was in front of the small TV in my room playing. Completely consumed, I raced through the game because I needed to know what happened next. And when the grand finale came, I cried like a baby; not only because the ending was everything a RPG should have, but because my life now felt empty. I remember collecting myself and aimlessly wandering around the house afterward, unsure of what to do with myself. The empty feeling of returning to reality after completing an exceptional video game or finishing an epic fantasy series always leaves an empty pit in my stomach and tightness in my chest. Final Fantasy X does it to me every time, no matter how often I play it.

It is hard to find many faults in this game. Not only does it feature excellently written characters and dialogue (for the most part), it has an innovative battle system, unique character customization, and a great storyline. Freely swapping characters in and out of battle whenever I want? Yessir! I used to make sure everyone performed an action during each fight to ensure they leveled up equally. It changed everything for me. Turn-based RPGs really should have picked up on it. Staple Fantasy-RPG classes are here as well: White Mage, Thief, Black Mage, etc., but if you put in enough time you can make any character good at anything. Want Auron to pick up the pace? Take him for a trip down Riku’s sphere grid path. Need a backup healer? Throw Lulu down Yuna’s path so she’ll learn some White Magic and get an even higher magic stat!

Final Fantasy X also has Blitzball. Blitzball is the only mini-game (‘mini’ is only an expression at this point) that I fell in love with. FFVII had the Gold Saucer, which I only went back to for the unlockables. FFVIII had Triple Triad (again, only played for the goodies) and FFIX had Tetra Master, which was pointless. Blitzball was rewarding, but it was also FUN. I found myself turning on my PS2 only to play Blitzball. And never did I complain about spending four hours playing just to get a certain item. It was also as customizable as your characters.

Aside from Xenosaga, I don’t think any games match up to Final Fantasy X‘s storyline in my eyes. While I appreciate Kefka (and I’ve been saying it’s about time for another megalomaniac villain), Sephiroth, and FFVIII‘s sorceresses, none of their “save the world from this villain” plots spoke to me like in FFX. In FFX, you are disillusioned throughout most of the game, believing as the rest of Spira believes. Mankind’s punishment is Sin, and the only brief restitution comes in 10 year periods known as “The Calm” after a summoner sacrifices their life for the greater good. However, you eventually learn that it is all an impressively constructed lie. As it turns out, “Sin” itself isn’t the true enemy, ‘god’ is, and the entire system was developed as a means of controlling the populace through false hope and lies– Hey, whaddya know? I just summarized my opinion on organized religion.

In all seriousness, experiencing this turn of events and the ensuing heartbreak between Yuna (who lost her father to said falsehoods and had devoted her entire life to the cause and was prepared to become a martyr for it) and Tidus (we won’t get into his entire story right now) really tied the knot for me and no other Final Fantasy tale quite matches it. It was a close call between this and Final Fantasy VII, but saving mankind from the shackles of their religion won out over saving the world from a demented biological experiment baby with mommy issues in the end. Saving ‘the world’ is done all the time, it was nice doing something different for a change.

And there you have it everyone, let the trolling wars begin! (Heyyy… look at all the great PS2 exclusives in this list~)

Retro Review: Breath of Fire 2

Breath of FIre 2

A couple of months ago, my gaming partner and I decided to pick up Breath of Fire 2. We played Breath of Fire 3, a completely amazing RPG, and made the mistake of thinking that its predecessor would be, I don’t know… enjoyable? Or at the very least a good, nostalgic SNES RPG romp.

Well, it’s not. BoF2 is not fun. Nor is it hardly tolerable. In order to try and make sense of how utterly terrible it is, try conceptualizing a JRPG lovechild between a self-mutilating masochist who can’t figure out which direction to slice their wrist and a 15-year old who thinks they know how to write but can’t even get a positive review on fanfiction.net.

We almost rage quit. Multiple times. This game is so terrible, even my gaming partner who has impressive fortitude and patience when it comes to video games had to consign to putting the classic controller down and taking deep, healing breaths.  Instead of quitting (because that would permanently injure our gamer pride) we took therapy breaks with Lollipop Chainsaw and movies.  There are so many flaws (both technically and conceptually), that it is hard to believe BoF2 even made it through any sort of review process before getting put on the market. At times I felt like the developers wanted me to break my face with the controller and damn them to an eternity of  anal penetration with cumbersome, pointy objects. I have a hard time thinking clearly through my rage when it comes to BoF2. I think the best way to go about this opinion piece is to list everything that makes this game the worst RPG I’ve ever forced myself to play.

1.) CONSTANT PARTY RAPING- When I use the term “party raping,” I mean instances when you have, say, 7 characters to choose from but the game keeps forcing certain party members down your throat. In most RPGs, it happens due to plot purposes. Final Fantasy XIII would be a recent example of having your party forcibly shuffled around for 50-75% of the game because of what is going on with the story. It is to be expected once in a while in a lot of these types of games. Sometimes you are strong-armed into playing one character solo. Again, it is common. BoF2 does this, but does it dishonestly and stupidly.

In terms of plot related party raping (and yes, there are other methods I’ll cover in my next complaint) the two most annoying occurrences were doing solo boss fights with Sten and, later on, Nina. As Sten, you have to go to his hometown and rescue the other party members who end up getting captured. He was immediately pit against a boss who got two turns to his one. Well actually, the bosses’ one turn=two actions, so really, four attacks to Sten’s one attack.  We hadn’t used Sten unless forced to at that point (he’s a monkey with boring abilities and the way he joined the party was just… tacky), so he was a little under-geared and under-leveled. You’d think common sense would dictate that, hey, if they’re going to force a solo boss fight upon a character the player may not have been using up to that point, they’d give the player access to either the other party’s inventory or an equipment store to buy upgrades, right?

Well, such was not the case. You also can’t leave the town. All you get is access to a two floor dungeon with a couple marginal equipment upgrades. And the fights in the dungeon were also a much higher difficultly than they should have been! One lonely monkey vs. a group of three mobs that enjoy “Slamming” him for more hit points than he even has before getting a turn= a very frustrating two hours trying to level up to kill the boss.  And that’s not all! Let’s make him traverse a dungeon all on his own after the boss fight with no heal spell or reliable way to run from even more random fights that can knock you out before you can say “This is f***ing BS!” And I don’t want to hear “Just run away,” because it doesn’t work, or “Use a ‘Smoke’ item,” because if it does decrease the encounter rate, it isn’t by a significant amount.

Something similar happens later on in the game when you have to use Nina, a mage, solo. Her boss fight was laughable after the stupid dungeon they make her go through by herself. We died, repeatedly, and kept popping back up where the rest of the party were offering to help, but just stood there, watching Nina come in and out after every death. It’s not like it would’ve made sense to put enemies with noticeable magic weaknesses in a dungeon when you are ONLY controlling a mage. Yeah, magic is all-around crappy in this game. Another gripe of mine.

I’d prefer the game MAKE me use characters, even if I have no interest in them,  than let me think I actually could choose how to set up my party and punish me for not having the foresight to swap crappy characters in and out to soak up experience (not that there’s a decent way to do so). God forbid they give non-active party members partial experience, or scale the solo boss fights dependent on your level, or supply you with a reliable way to buff the character up before throwing them into their obnoxious solo endeavors.

2.) CONSTANT WORLD MAP BACKTRACKING- The yokel who decided walking back and forth across the world map three dozen times before giving the player access to a Warp spell and without even updating the random encounters needs some lengthy doses of Chinese water torture. I’ll come clean here: one of my RPG pet peeves is being forced to walk by foot across already-explored territory while entering random encounters that offer trivial rewards. BORING! BoF2 took this, coincided it with my party raping frustrations, and showed me a whole new level of rage.

Every character has a different ability they can perform on the world map. You must put that person in the lead, hit the corresponding button, and something different will happen depending on who you’re controlling. In order to access certain areas on the world map, you must have certain people in the party to proceed. See where I’m going with this? So, say you hate Jean because you think he is an insufferable tool and is completely ineffective in battle (which isn’t too far from the truth) but you have to keep letting him in your party because, being a frog and all, he is the only one who can swim to certain spots. Now imagine you spent 15 minutes crossing the world map to get where you wanted to go only to find out you need to turn back around and change your party lineup because you have to put Jean in your party. And then, assuming you go back to the nearest dragon statue to change your party (Dragon statues are the only way to swap active characters and with the ridiculous amount of time spent changing party members there really should have been more of them) and get back on track, you make five more minutes of progress only to find out you need a different party member! But hey, by now Jean will be level 14 and know Warp, so he won’t be quite so useless until you get Bleu. This is what I mean by not being honest about forcing party members down your throat. You don’t even get the decency of a suggestion that it might be a good idea to put so-and-so in the party for the next plot area most of the time.

Just when I thought this was all going to be alleviated once we were able to fly, the game spit in my face again. In order to fly across the world map, you still have to have a certain party member present. Which means, even when finding good item/experience grinding locations, you’re not necessarily going to have the ideal party you want leveling up. And there is no dragon statue to be found on these isolated grinding islands. Tell me how that makes any sense at all.

These frustrations could have easily been avoided if the game would just let you change party members from the main menu. Backtracking would also be less painful if you could run away from fights. The “Run” option uses everyone’s turn and doesn’t like to work most of the time. Even when you are level 25 and trying to escape level 1 Slimes. This is not an exaggeration. I cannot fathom why there is NO character with an escape ability, or a consumable item. Even if it wasn’t 100% I’d take it, because at least the other characters could whittle away at the enemy’s HP. As it stands, you’ll fail running away from a pointless fight three times, then give up and kill the enemy anyway because it seems to be less time consuming. And if you’re fighting a higher level enemy and your life depends on it, don’t depend on getting away alive. You will die and wish you could kill the stupid characters in real life because they “Won’t Run” from fights they can’t win.

So yeah, the developers managed to combine three of my major peeves into one hellish experience:  Constant party raping while walking back and forth across the world map fifty times and fighting the same level 1 slimes over and over again.

3.) BAD TRANSLATIONS- Don’t get me wrong, I like quirky and funny dialogue gaffes as much as the next JRPG player. They tend to have a certain charm to them. Legend of Dragoon is an example of how they can be funny but also tolerable. In BoF2, they are crippling. Debilitating. No one who has a third grader’s understanding of the English language proofread this before giving it the go ahead.  Punctuation and grammar are afterthoughts. When you try to unite your shamans, “No” means “Yes” and “Yes” means “No.” I went around and around the same conversation before I realized that when I was telling her I didn’t want a shaman explanation, I actually had to tell her I did want one, even though I didn’t, I just wanted to do the damn uniting already.

Item descriptions tend to be pointless or unintelligible. When hovering over a sword, the description says, “Is a sharp blade.” …Ya don’t say? A sword is sharp, huh? My gamer senses are telling me the blade is sharp, thanks. What I really want to know is if it has any special properties or elemental attributes. But whatever. One of the accessory descriptions says “Erase the spell.” Um, pardon? I mean, I had all kinds of guesses about what that might mean, but I’d like to think I deserve a little better idea of what I’m getting myself into before putting the thing on. It really should’ve said, “Periodically nullifies magical damage” but something tells me that’s a bit complicated, given the translator’s ineptitude. I’ve also  read conflicting reports online about whether the “Collar” accessory increases or decreases the encounter rate.  Personally, I found my encounter rate to be consistently high no matter what I did.

Want proof no one bothered to read the crap they were putting in this game? Check this out. Anyone who knows Japanese language stereotypes knows that “r” comes out as “l” when they speak English . Well, if you decide to go fishing, the small menu that pops up asks you if you want to equip a “lod.” Seems like they didn’t bother checking on whether “lod” was actually a word in the English language or not. I even typed “lod” into dictionary.com and all I got was a poor translation of a town in Israel. In case you can’t wrap your head around this, when you want to fish and the game gives you the option to “Equip lod/bait” they actually mean ROD. As in FISHING ROD. Not one English speaking person read this, or perhaps they didn’t care to point out the glaring error because even if the game had glorious English it would still stuck. But I still think the morons who thought this was a passable translation should have been laughed out of Capcom after having a fishing “lod” shoved up their buttholes.

All this translation ridiculousness aside, the biggest problem I have with it all is feeling lost most of the time because I couldn’t make heads nor tails out of what the NPCs were trying to tell me, which leads me to my next main complaint…

4.) LACK OF DIRECTION/POOR PLOT- I’ll give the bad translation some of the credit for this. You really can’t expect to play this game for story purposes because when it isn’t being a stereotypical JRPG, it is a convoluted mess of strange sentences and bizarre roadblocks. I hope I’m not forgetting anything, because I’m going to give you a series of events we had to do in order to advance the plot: Recruited a new party member in order to talk to a tree, tried talking to the tree, but he needed a “Dream Pillow” in order to recall something important… we went to where the “Dream Pillow” was located, but none of the citizens would speak with us because we didn’t have some fancy instrument. As it so happened, Monkey Sten knew where to get one so we went to his hometown and proceeded with the solo crap I complained about earlier to get the flute or whatever it was called, went back to the town where the “Dream Pillow” was, then we had to go find some secluded old man and bring him there. THEN we had to return to where we JUST picked up the old man to get an item he needed from his apprentice so we could go INSIDE the fat ruler of “Dream Pillow” town and kill her demonic fat cells. They then gave us the “Dream Pillow,” we went back to the forest and after all that work the absent-minded ancient tree told us the demons were killing the forest.

DA FUQ JUST HAPPENED?!

Saved a queen by turning into microscopic lipid destroyers and clearing out her colon? Un-freaking-believable. All to get a dream pillow from a forgetful tree who doesn’t have a HEAD to rest on said pillow… To be told meany demons were killing his tree friends. I have to say, for my first video game liposuction procedure, it was underwhelming. Ten hours of pointless running around doing completely random fetch quests, and the only hints towards a grander, overarching scheme were demonic fat cells and tree killers.

I don’t always ask to have my hand held throughout an entire game. I know that, especially in older RPGs, there will be times when the game doesn’t give me much to go on moving forward. Sometimes you just have to explore a little bit, talk to NPCs, or follow an old hint. BoF2 doesn’t bother to give the courtesy of even a vague shrug in the right direction most of the time. No cardinal directions, no “check out the mountains,” no “talk to the people here,” no nothing. Most of the time, you’ll complete a dungeon and then sit there, scratching your head, wondering where you’re supposed to go next.

At one point, an NPC said “Go learn about St. Eva.” Which, by the way, is an abbreviation for St. Evan. Everything in this game is abbreviated, which is totally annoying, by the way.  What on earth do you suppose that means? “Go learn about St. Eva.” It means that you have to go to a church and talk to a priest about 20 times until you’ve donated a small fortune. Apparently after you donate a certain amount of money, you get a free bible for your troubles! The priest doesn’t even hint that he’s going to teach you about St. Eva or give you a lifelong donor prize or anything, either. It is all totally random, and I don’t know who would stand there and donate a ton of their hard earned money for no reason. Without the wonderful internet, we would have literally spent hours wandering around between almost every major dungeon and town trying to figure out what the game wanted us to do next.

We also missed the boat on a lot of cool things we could do. Mostly because we had no idea about any of the people we could recruit or things we could do with the TownShip. The first NPC we spoke to who wanted to join our TownShip caught us by surprise. We let him join our cause, of course, but it was to our detriment. It’s one of those systems where there are only a certain amount of people who perform different tasks (carpenter, armory, fishing, etc.) that you can recruit. So if there are two armor sales people and you invite one of them into your town, you’ll screw yourself out of the best armor if you pick the wrong one.  There’s no tutorial or anything about all of this stuff, so you happen upon NPCs and tell them the wrong thing and hate yourself later for it.

Oh, and you can also make the TownShip fly! A flying headquarters, something every RPG needs! Final Fantasy already had the lockdown on the airship thing at this point in time, so it was a unique idea. Well, you need a certain NPC for this as well. Except this NPC can be killed. And boy, did we kill this NPC good. It’s a boss fight, and a boss fight that doesn’t think to give any indication that killing him might be a bad idea. No awkward dialogue, no Game Over if you kill him. Things continue on as normal. If my memory serves correctly, he was begging us to kill him. Should’ve known better than to trust anything a character in this damn game says. By killing him we ALSO ruined our chances of getting the good ending.

So after all that work, we ended up with the bad ending and had to youtube the good ending. In my opinion, the bad ending is more fitting… The good ending is a bit cheesy. But it is frustrating that in a game where the player can unintentionally screw themselves over so much, there is no option to save on a different save file at the dragon statues. And, like I said, no indications or hints or tutorials or anything.

5.) SHAMANS- The shaman uniting system was this game’s one chance at not totally sucking, but they managed to botch that too! The concept is pretty neat. Aside from Ryu and Bleu, all the other characters can unite with shamans you find throughout the game. If you chose the right shaman/s for each character, they transform, get great stat bonuses and a new ability. Katt turns into a hot cat chick, Rand turns into a lame pink pokemon, and Jean turns into a Battletoad-reminiscent mech. And there IS a tutorial for this, which you’ll accidentally sit through when you don’t want to because the shaman granny thinks “No” means “Yes.” Finding all the shamans does take some backtracking and exploration, so use a walkthrough. The problem is this: If a united character is killed OR knocked down to critical health they lose the shaman buff. And the enemies all somehow know. In the final dungeon, our party consisted of Ryu, Bleu, Rand and Katt, which means only half of our characters had shaman buffs. Without fail the enemies would spam death on Rand and Katt. Or they would take turns “Slamming” Katt, thus knocking her into the danger HP zone and removing her shaman buffs. Rand was even wearing the DmndBR (which means “Diamond Bracelet” for those who don’t speak RPG Abbreviations) and still fell to the Death spell even though that particular piece of equipment is supposed to prevent against it. When you lose the shaman buff, the only way to retrieve it is to return to your TownShip. Since we never got the TownShip to fly, we effectively had to return to the beginning of the game every single time. Needless to say, this resulted in a frustrating back-and-forth with the final dungeon where the mobs spammed Death and trying to run away from fights was pointless.

Even MORE frustrating is when your shaman buffs suddenly disappear after certain cut scenes. And yes, over halfway through the final dungeon there is one of these particular scenes. The game did us the favor of shuffling our party around and giving us back our characters WITHOUT the shamans they definitely had up until that point. It was almost like they wanted us hating the final boss fight, too. The final boss fights were as expected, not too easy but not too difficult, and the laughable plot almost made traversing the dungeon multiple times worth it. There’s really no reason or excuse for randomly losing the shaman buffs we intentionally tried so hard to keep so we could have them during the final boss fight. Okay, maybe there IS one excuse: the developers really didn’t want anyone to potentially have fun while playing this game.

Those are my main gripes with this game, but there are definitely more. Aside from Death and buff spells, magic is pretty crappy in this game. Angel, a “Holy” spell, doesn’t hurt undead enemies, and this applies to pretty much all of the elemental weaknesses you’d think would exist. The inventory management system is a mess: items that should stack on their own don’t. You have to go into your inventory and “Clean” your mess of items which should happen automatically, in my opinion. There don’t seem to be items that fully heal a character’s AP, and one of the only satisfying high-damage moves is Ryu’s G. Dragon spell, which uses all of his AP. So unless you want to spend turns giving him 4 WFruits, you only get to use the spell once per fight. I mean, really, what kind of RPG doesn’t have an item to fully heal a character’s magic pool? You don’t get the satisfaction of seeing high numbers very often. As I mentioned before, even if Katt had her shaman buff her HP still wasn’t high enough to withstand two enemy crits in a row. The only high damage outputting moves we found were Ryu’s Dragon spells, Jean’s “Chop” (which failed the second time we tried to use it so we didn’t bother), and Katt’s “Keep” ability with an Atk-Up boost. No matter how much time we spend experience, we never really felt like we were getting ahead of the enemies.  The game also likes to switch around your party set-up, but it’s not like that means anything, because enemies commonly ignore the character you put in the front because you want them to soak up most of the damage. Rand, who has great healing spells, and Bleu, who is a flat-out mage, both had more HP than the main character. Not bad, but a little confusing.

Oh, and this game has NO stealing. Big letdown. Especially since there’s a depressingly low number of accessories in this game, it’d be nice to be able to steal accessories and equipment from bosses.

If, despite everything I’ve just said, you insist on letting this game play you, I will make a couple of suggestions. Play an emulated version with fan translations. Really, die hard fans do so much better with walkthroughs than the people who get paid to do them. And I KNOW in this case, it is impossible for their translating to be any worse than the official version. Plus, with an emulator, you can take advantage of save states and save yourself some frustrations. My other suggestion is to hug a good walkthrough. It’ll save you from a lot of the troubles we had. But honestly, if I was given an ultimatum that I either had to play this game again or shove hot pokers underneath my toenails, I’m pretty sure I would choose the latter.