Tales of Berseria: The Greatest Tales Ever Told

When Tales of Zestiria came out, I absolutely fell in love with the story and characters, even if the gameplay itself was obtuse, unnecessarily difficult, and downright frustrating. Regardless, I immediately claimed it as my favorite Tales game, even if so many others are technically superior in all aspects. Zestiria garnered a special place in my heart that cannot be taken by any other. One came close, however: it’s immediate successor, Tales of Berseria.

Being a prequel to Zestiria, the games are similar in many ways, some good and others… not so much. As a result, this review will actually feature both in about equal measure. But while on the surface level, Berseria might share many similarities with Zestiria, once you graze beneath the surface, you start to see just how much improved in Berseria.

For one, the story is immensely better. Zestiria was a classic Good Vs. Evil story, “Like a bad play where the heroes are right, and nobody thinks or expects too much.” Blues Traveler’s words are very fitting for Zestiria, and it is a damning statement. Even if I personally found the world and story of Zestiria gripping, it’s easy to spot the numerous cliches. Sorey and friends are set on a journey to “save the world” from the ruin you don’t often actually see outside of cutscenes. The beautiful world sat in stark contrast to the terrified way people spoke of it. Not so in Berseria, where many areas of the world are clearly in states of decay. The world of Berseria is teetering on a ledge between doom and salvation, and even salvation would be doom. Where in Zestiria, the villain was a stock standard Stoic Evil Behemoth of a Man who had barely any presence in the story itself and a backstory that the game literally told you in a thirty second cutscene with no dialogue (it’s built on for about 5 minutes at the VERY end of the game), in Berseria, the bad guy is a Villain With Good Publicity such as Tales is known for, who genuinely wants the best for the world but was broken by his own experiences into utilizing methods that would make his goal ultimately meaningless. He is constantly in the background of the story, even if not directly involved in whatever current situation the party is dealing with.

One of Berseria’s big selling points was the first female protagonist in franchise history (not including Milla Maxwell of Xilia, who shared the position with Jude Mathis). Velvet Crowe is arguably one of the strongest characters in the Tales series, with writing that develops her well over the course of the story and a performance by Cristina Valenzuela that sells every moment. The prologue begins with her as a happy, cheerful girl who’s friends with the whole village and cares for her family deeply. After three hours, she is a broken, vengeance-fueled demon (quite literally) with the blood of the entire village wet on her hands. She is beholden to no such lofty goals like “saving the world” or “helping my friends” when she begins her journey. She wants only to kill the man who destroyed her world. At one point, one character refers to the party as a “troupe of villains,” and this indeed holds true to the very end of the game, as even though they ultimately “saved the world,” Velvet’s legacy is as the first “Lord of Calamity,” a term players of Zestiria will recognize immediately.

All the characters in the game are actually very well-written, especially on the party’s side. Rokurou Rangetsu is a demon who joins the party early on, claiming a debt to Velvet that beholdens him to her cause. He lives for the thirst for battle and aims to kill his brother for reasons he’s not immediately willing to share. Eizen (a returning character from Zestiria) is a pirate who joins the party searching for the captain of his crew. He is cold and ruthless (or so he likes to think). Laphicet is a malakim with, initially, no personality of his own, who joins the party due to an attachment he feels for Velvet. He’s also a Zestiria returner, though you might be surprised by who he is. Magilou is a witch who doesn’t care about the party at all and only travels with them because she finds it fun. She is an entirely mysterious character you learn little about, but is an absolute delight to have on your screen. Finally, Eleanor is a praetor for the villainous Abbey, who finds herself attached to the party after they’re forced to work together to survive. Aside from Velvet, Eleanor is probably the character who grows the most over the course of the story, and I found myself just as invested in her arc as I was in Velvet’s.

The most palpable improvements to Berseria were made to the combat system, however. Gone is Zestiria’s awkward Fire Emblem-esque weapon triangle, replaced instead by… nothing. Because it was unnecessary. The equipment system is far less obtuse, as well. Instead of a confusing mess where you had to combine items with abilities in specific slots in order to transfer them or mix two abilities to create an entirely new one (seriously, 60% of my frustration in Zestiria came from that), it has a more Graces-esque style of just using items to level the gear and unlock set abilities on the gear. It’s far more stream-lined and easy to grasp and I love it.

When it came to level and monster design, however, I have to call Berseria out for it’s laziness. Several locales are just retooled Zestiria locations (one particular early meadowy area I immediately recognized as a swamp from Zestiria, for example), and many trees, buildings, and such look exactly the same. Monsters were even worse about it, with probably about 50% of the bestiary being ripped from the game’s predecessor. And yes, the dreaded Marmot made a return (incidentally, being the spark that made me realize what was happening). Although, given that the game had a production cycle of about a year, I am willing to forgive this, while still acknowledging it happened.

However, character design is extraordinarily hit and miss, as well. Characters like Eizen and Laphicet have very memorable and sensible designs that clearly define who they are, others like Velvet and Magilou are far from sensible. Magilous’ “book skirt,” in p[articular, has become an endless fount of comedy for detractors of the characters, and I have to say… the book skirt is awful. I bought some of the DLC costumes just to get rid of it. Meanwhile, Rokurou wins the award for Least Visually Interesting Design In A Tales Game Since Genis From Symphonia. He’s a samurai. He wears purple samurai clothes. How cool.

Speaking of the DLC, however, this has become a major point of contention for me when playing recent Tales games. Zestiria made a handful of costumes DLC, which worried me then, but Berseria has taken the idea and ran with it. Gone are the days of cool sidequests where you might be rewarded with a nifty bartender outfit for Guy or even an epic black and red palette swap for Sorey. If you don’t unlock a costume via the story in Berseria, it’s DLC. Period. And there is SO MUCH DLC. They clearly had a lot of interesting ideas for cool outfits for all the different characters, but having to pay for them just feels gross. It’s a business practice in games that I’m becoming more and more disgusted with, where you take things that would have otherwise been in the base game, and force people to pay for it.

Ultimately, Berseria is a great game and you can’t go wrong picking this one up. It’s easily a contender for the best game in the series, and I personally would place it at the top. However, I cannot move past the hostage-taking of costumes, and I would like if, for the next entry, they made entirely new assets. Zestiria and Berseria taking place in the same world a mere few hundred years apart allows it some leeway, but going forward I would like to see both of these practices disappear.

Developer: Bandai Namco

Console: Playstation 4

Genre: Japanese RPG

Final Score: 8

Final Fantasy 7: A Good First Try

It was okay.

It took a while for me to get around to playing Final Fantasy 7. One reason for this was the years and years of overexposure, people constantly telling me I should play it, that it’s one of the greatest games ever, and it’s a cornerstone of gaming history. Another reason was that I had played a game from the Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 (Dirge of Cerberus), and was immensely unimpressed, souring my view of what the actual game would be like. However, last year I picked up a copy, popped it into my Playstation 1, and had my 60 hour experience with Final Fantasy 7. And when it was over, I sat back in my couch and had a singular thought.

It was okay.

I didn’t hate it like I genuinely believed I would. The combat was fun, I had a team that I favored (Cloud, Yuffie, and Vincent), picking out Materia for my characters allowed for nice customization of my team, and battles never dragged for too long. However, it was also incredibly easy. I’m not usually one to knock something for being easy, but if there had been one (story!) boss that was remotely challenging, I would have been incredibly pleased. Instead, I felt like I was walking from one end of the world to the other with little dogs yapping at my feet, a nuisance as opposed to any real challenge.

What really fell flat for me, though, was the story and particularly the characters. First, the characters. The only one who spends enough time in the party to get invested in is Cloud, and early game maybe Tifa and Aerith. This is because of how the game utilizes its characters within cutscenes. With a handful of exceptions, the only characters who will appear in any given scene are the ones currently in your party, which means that if you never have Barrett in your party (largely because he’s a terrible stereotype and also a Mr. T ripoff and also he sucks in combat), then it looks like Barrett just never does anything. The characters would definitely have benefited from far more screen time, but it just never comes. As a result, the bulk of the story revolves around Cloud, as, for the most part, he is glued to your party. And anytime the story needs another character to be important, the game basically forces them into your party, which is really frustrating when you’re used to being able to choose who you take. Just let the characters exist outside of the party, game? Please?

That being said, I did enjoy them when they were on screen (except for Barrett and Cait Sith, both of whom I avoided wherever possible [I’m pretty sure Cait Sith is never actually required in your party, but he still has a couple of scenes that will make you wanna scream in hatred]). They all have distinct personalities and are really fun to watch. As I said previously, I mostly had Yuffie and Vincent in my party, which is a really interesting contrast. Vincent is largely apathetic, never getting excited about anything, speaking mostly in short, quiet sentences. Yuffie, on the other hand, will never shut up, being highly energetic and excitable and also a Valley Girl, I think? She has more of a gunner personality than Vincent, the gunner, does, while he has more of a ninja personality than Yuffie, the ninja. It’s kind of funny and I love it, so they were my party for every boss after acquiring Vincent, wherever they were both available. That includes Sephiroth, even if Yuffie did spend most of that battle dead.

(Spoilers for 20 year old game ahead! Apparently you’re supposed to tag these things, even though it’s… 20 years old…)

As for the story, it… happens? Honestly, I’d have to say that this is one of the weaker stories in the franchise. It’s a “Villain tries to destroy the world” plot with a new wardrobe. This time the protagonist is not just connected to the villain, he’s a clone of the villain!… or so we’re led to believe, until it’s revealed he actually is just connected to the villain and his mind is being tampered with. Until about 3/4’s of the way through disc 2, it’s hard to really tell what the truth about Cloud is, which I guess was the point? But it also just muddles who Cloud, as Cloud, is, to the point where I’d argue that the true Cloud has less screen time than I ever gave Barrett (is that zing worthy?). I will say that Aerith’s death at the end of disc 1 is shocking, not in that it happens because the game sets that up far in advance, but in that it is STILL rare today for a game to kill a major character off like that. Party members are expected to perform a Heroic Sacrifice, but that’s not what happens here. She just… dies. It does set up something at the end of the game, but for a character to just be dropped like that is still impressive for a game to do, and if I had to guess, it’s one of THE major contributing factors to why this game still persists in the public eye.

The other reason is Sephiroth. Oh boy, Sephiroth. He shows up about 1/4 of the way through the first disc, and suddenly everything else that was going on doesn’t matter so much. He steals the show. Where Kefka made villainy gross and disgusting and insane, something to be reviled, Sephiroth makes it look cool and elegant, and also insane, something to strive for. He’s honestly a bit too cool, because he totally overshadows the main cast. By the end of the game, I was mostly playing just to see more Sephiroth scenes. Unfortunately, though, I was disappointed in the end. Sephiroth has been cloned numerous times, so most of what we see of him is not the man himself, but rather those clones. The original Sephiroth never actually mutters a single word. If you want to see that, you’ll have to play Crisis Core.

The soundtrack, however, never disappoints. From “Opening Theme, Bombing Mission” on to “One-Winged Angel,” the music never doesn’t deliver. It’s honestly the one part of this whole experience that doesn’t feel dated, and even while playing Final Fantasy XV, I’ll pop 7‘s soundtrack into the car and just chill.

The aspect of this game that is the most dated, however, are the graphics. I’m sure a 3D Final Fantasy game looked amazing in 1997, but today this aesthetic looks like garbage. That’s really the only way I can truly describe it. It is an assault on the eyes. Even a couple years later, with Final Fantasy 8, the graphical capabilities of the Playstation would be put to far better use, especially regarding the pre-rendered cutscenes. In 8, they would look almost like early PS2 era cutscenes. In 7, they look like… uhh…

Whatever that is.

Overall, though, I had fun with Final Fantasy 7. I don’t think it holds up very well, considering what RPG’s would become even within the same console generation (I would recommend games such as Breath of Fire III/IV or Legend of Dragoon if you’re looking for a Playstation RPG that holds up), but I can see why it was such a big deal when it was released. If you’re interested in video game history, or are a fan of the Final Fantasy franchise, definitely play this if you somehow haven’t already. Just… don’t get your hopes too high.

I can’t wait for that PS4 remake, though.

Onyx: An Ugly, Brown Tur-Rock, Onyx Is A Rock

On a whim, I picked up this cheap Steam RPG that came out not even a week before writing this review. Now, I’m against the idea of people charging anything for the games they’ve made in RPG Maker, but they rarely charge more than $5-$7, which I suppose isn’t objectionable. What is objectionable, however, is Onyx.

Onyx is about a world where witches are a regular part of life, but are being hunted down and slaughtered like lambs by a rebel sect known as the “Nimrod Brotherhood.” Yes, that is what they’re called. No, I don’t believe they’re named after the Biblical Nimrod. I think they’re named Nimrod because it’s a JOOOOOOOOOOOOOKE.

That seems to be half the reason for the game’s existence, really. There can’t be three lines of dialogue without some character or other cracking what they must think is the wittiest jest in their lifetime, and while some will get a chuckle out of you, others fall flat on their face. Not helping matters is the lack of any editing or spellchecking going into the product before release, leaving horrendous typos everywhere and sometimes incomprehensible sentences, problems that could easily have been fixed prior to release.

That’s another problem I have with the whole RPG Maker business model. Due to the ease of cranking out games when you have very little to do yourself aside from place assets and write a story, it creates an environment where you could easily release two or three games a month, given enough free time. With that capability at your fingertips, it can become easy to give in to apathy, and start cutting back on things like QA testing or giving a shit about the products you sell your customers.

Speaking of not giving a shit, the game focuses on a character named Rowan, though you can rename all playable characters anything you see fit within the 8-or-9 character limit. Rowan is Velvet Crowe from Tales of Berseria. That’s her character. A poorly written Velvet Crowe. She’s joined by a character who is basically Komoto Raynar from this site, a mother and daughter with serious familial issues, a Mystic Knight from Final Fantasy V, and some other character I couldn’t be bothered to play long enough to meet. None of them are interesting enough to get invested in, Vel- I mean, Rowan is a selfish witch, and they are all groan-worthy at various points.

The maps you’ll be spending most of your time travelling around are some of the clunkiest and poorly designed maps I’ve ever seen. Back in my Ar tonelico review, I threw some serious shade at its maps, but I feel I now owe it an apology. At least Ar tonelico had maps with rules. Onyx has no rules. One bush might block your progress, while the very same bush in a different location you might be able to pass over. Sometimes the ground covers up half your character’s sprite, as if they are slowly sinking into the abyssal quicksand that is this game. Take two steps and they are suddenly freed, allowed to suffer the torment of fourth wall breaks and petty intra-party drama. This will occur even if you are standing on the exact same kind of floor tile after moving.

Battles are just a visual nightmare. Your party appears as RPG Maker sprites, obviously, but enemies are these weird, watercolor portraits superimposed over Earthbound‘s battle background. They look horrendous, have a tendency to blend together or hide each other, and, given enough enough enemies on the screen, can even impose themselves over your own character sprites. And once you have a fourth party member, you might not realize it, because the UI is so tall and the characters are situated in such a way that the UI will cover your fourth member. It is negative fun to get into a fight in this game. Anti-fun, if you will. It actively sucks joy from your life.

You’re allowed to save anywhere in the game, but outside a tent early in the game, there’s a save point. It has no reason for existence. I can only assume that an early version required save points, and they failed to dummy them all out. It’s extremely inconsistent.

Near the end of my play time, I also stumbled across The End of Ti- I mean, a magical museum that is not totally a ripoff of Chrono Trigger right down to name-dropping Melchior as the inspiration. It definitely also does not have the Hylian shield (which can be seen in other places within the game, as well) and Prince of Persia‘s scimitars hanging in a hallway. This game is wholly original and will not fall back on using nostalgic images in order to garner favor from its players. I hate this game and my life because of this game.

I don’t understand why this exists. I don’t understand how it has the right to charge money. But since it is charging money, it deserves to be criticized like anything else we have to crack open our wallets for, and even at a $7 price tag, this one is not worth your time or money. Even if you are an avid follower of RPG Maker enterprises, steer clear of this one.

Developer: Aldorlea Games

Released: 2017

Platform: Steam

(Hijacking the post to relay my thoughts on this whole thing, since I was watching him play that 3-4 hours before he wrote this. This game has about as much polish as I’d expect from a 90’s freeware game. I feel like the developers need a few lessons in proper design, or at least some research into how other games did it. The few maps I saw were spacious, yes, but with a lot of dead ends, and dead ends that look like they should lead somewhere but don’t. The battle system is about as simple as it gets, with ridiculously inflated damage values, and for Goddess sake, if one of your selling points is “Hilarious Touches of Humor”, at least actually let it be humor for humor’s sake. One of the NPCs in an early game town literally states how badly constructed the town is. Parody Played Straight is a horrible thing to let happen to your game, regardless of your intention. Don’t get me wrong, we had a few laughs at this game, but laughing at this game is about all we’ll be doing from now on.

I try hard to find redeeming features in games. The only redeeming feature I find for this one, is a “What Not To Do” example for game design classes. ~Ray)

The Last Story Review: End of an Era

The Last Story is one of the most unique games I have ever played. Over the years, I’ve seen it receive scorn and criticism from all angles (one of my favorite video game reviewers even called it one of the worst games of 2012), but I’d never actually played it myself. Having done so now, I […]

The Last Story is one of the most unique games I have ever played. Over the years, I’ve seen it receive scorn and criticism from all angles (one of my favorite video game reviewers even called it one of the worst games of 2012), but I’d never actually played it myself. Having done so now, I have to say that I largely disagree that any flaws it has ruins the product as a game. This romp with the adorably boring Zael and his band of mercenaries was one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had all year.

As with all JRPG’s, the first place you have to look is to the story. Being largely linear, narrative experiences, a terrible story can indeed make for a terrible game in this genre, and each new entry has a host of previous classics to contend with. Fortunately, at The Last Story’s helm is Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy and essentially father of the genre, and he is fully aware of what he has to contend with. While the game largely confines you to a single major city, it weaves a tale on a global scale, as a threat to the entire world is defended against at this central location. And it works. Zael and his friends fight a massive war on the frontlines, and have no reason to go beyond where they are right now. Characters appear to be of moral ambiguity until their true intentions are realized. Setpieces are grand and beautiful and perfectly convey the levity of the situation bringing you to them.

That’s not to say the story isn’t riddled with cliche’s. The villains are just a little too on the nose (save one), with one in particular who could have made for a much more satisfying turn had his evil motivations not been revealed in an entirely unnecessary scene a full dozen chapters before his direct betrayal of the mercenaries. Another just looks like Ganondorf in a purple aura, and that’s about all the characterization he gets, too. The central conflict is a very generic “our world is dying” tale, as well, though the reasons for the world dying are much weirder than most.

But behind the poor villain characterization and poorly hidden plot twists lies a story with heart, as the mercenaries, initially fighting for their own gain, begin to realize that there’s more at stake, and they’ll have to learn to think beyond themselves. Each mercenary has their own reasons for fighting, interesting backstories and development, and you really do grow to care for each of them. The only major gripe I have with the main cast is how often Lowell was not in my party, because Lowell is clearly the best character in the game and should have been in my party constantly, but actually spends less time with Zael than almost any other party member.

The love story between Zael and Calisto is almost a deconstruction of generic JRPG love stories, as they spend as little time as possible after the first quarter of the game in each other’s company, with Calisto actively pushing Zael away, which only makes Zael more interested in staying close to her. Doing so only creates further problems for the both of them, where had Calisto not been so worrisome or had Zael given up on Calisto after being told to stay away, their lives would have been much simpler than the third path their contradictory actions resulted in. It’s ultimately reconstructed near the very end of the game and in an optional epilogue chapter, but it comes so late you would almost be excused for thinking this was more like Romeo and Juliet and less a RomCom.

However, I feel like the story was also more of an afterthought for the core gameplay, as if they had an idea for how the game would play and then crafted a storyline around it, because The Last Story is one of the tightest games I have ever played. Coming in from any other JRPG, you might be thrown off, because combat is less explosive action and more like a real-time tactical shooter, but with swords and magic. Imagine if Fire Emblem combined with Gears of War, and that’s similar to what you get in The Last Story. You approach enemies carefully, because being overwhelmed means death. You single out the most dangerous targets first and take them out with Zael’s crossbow, which while usually cannot kill enemies, does come equipped with bolts that can instantly kill a magic-user. Once the fight starts however, there’s no turning back, as you are often locked in the combat area until all your enemies lay defeated. At that point, you might take advantage of the ability to deal powerful blows to enemies as you exit cover. Or you might command one of your friends to use powerful magic on surrounding enemies. It’s a very intricate battle system which can be used to full effect or discarded completely in favor of a brute force approach… so long as you’re good enough.

Unfortunately, when it comes to bosses, the possibilities tend to be limited to one strategy and no other ways of coming at it. It can be very frustrating going from trying out all kinds of cool tactics against regular enemies to using the same commands over and over again in a boss fight. Of particular note is the boss that closes off the entire ship-raiding segment early on, which not only has a very specific and unreliable method of defeating, but is also the one to start the trend of terrible bosses within the game, throwing you a huge curveball. If you end up fighting this thing for an hour and a half, don’t worry. I did the same.

Sometimes, however, the game will throw a boss out that seems absolutely impenetrable. What this usually means is that Zael and co. are underleveled, which would mean lots of grinding, right? Not so! There is usually at least one place within a dungeon that you can return to, and it will have summoning circles that allow you to summon enemies. This is the only true way to grind in the game at all, as enemies do not respawn and revisiting areas does not award experience. However, I mean this as a good thing. The summon battles take little to no time, are very straightforward, and will award you tons of experience until you’re caught up to about where the game wants you to be, at which point you’ll notice that instead of gaining 2-3 levels a fight, you’re not even gaining one. It’s very easy and quick and will put you right back on the story’s path once you’re done.

Chapters in the game are more like Missions in a tactical shooter. It’s a very linear pathway where you clear out enemies until you arrive at your objective. People like to spit on the word linear, but done correctly, a good hallway can mean a lot more than a not-so-great continent. The linearity fits with the story being told, as the party has a clear objective and consistently work towards it, and it keeps the pace steady. You are always moving forward, and there are no major chapters that might count as “filler” or “padding”. Any unnecessary chapters are treated just like that; unnecessary and optional. And even doing all of those, the game clocks in at just over 20 hours. The game never outstays its welcome, tells you exactly what it needs to, and wastes no time getting there.

All in all, The Last Story is one of the best experiences I have ever had with a JRPG (which is really saying something when you consider my game library). I highly recommend picking this one up if you never have. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Review – NieR: Automata – “Falling Back Right In With The System…”

A look at the story of two androids, and the loss and struggle they endure on a machine-ruled Earth.

The Story of two androids in a mechanical hell…

Starting up the game, you’re immediately thrown into a top-down shooter style of gameplay. Hold on, bear with me, as this is basically introducing you to the type of reality this world is. As your comrades get shot down one by one, you’ll suddenly find yourself fending off your enemies, and eventually ditching your flight unit to take the fight to the ground, where you belong.

That is your introduction to 2B, and the world of Automata.

After dealing with a giant buzzsaw and meeting up with your field support unit (Simply known as 9S), you race through this abandoned weapons factory, cutting down all in your way. In the end, though, you can’t find your actual objective, something called a Goliath-class machine. (Spoiler warning, they’re as big as they sound.), unless you are accosted by two more giant buzzsaws, which turn out to be attached to the Goliath you were actually hunting.

It’s a hard fight, but 2B and 9S eventually manage to disable it, at great cost to themselves.NieR:Automata_20170323112719

Surprisingly, this is one the tamest things in the game

After some big fireworks, you’ll find yourself in a space station known as “The Bunker”; a bastion for the android forces of YorHa to restore themselves. And by restore, I mean we’re literally going to walk you through the Settings menu…NieR:Automata_20170323113644

On a meta level, it works…

Once back in fighting shape, you are given your mission: To contact the Resistance camp stationed on Earth, which leads into doing some odd jobs to get the shops into working order and some desert recon. The machines, despite being the enemy, are a strange and mysterious group. And it gets even stranger once you battle your way through both desert and ruined apartment complex.NieR:Automata_20170323142545

There’s something clearly not right here.

Certain events cause 2B and 9S to retreat from what they discover in the desert, but since they technically accomplished what they were told to do, they are met with praise from the Resistance. Afterwards, The Bunker gives the pair another mission; contacting a missing faction of YorHa that have fallen off the communication grid. This leads the andriods through an abandoned sewer pipe and into an even stranger sight…NieR:Automata_20170323152314

Disney Land in the future.

The machines here are more interested in having celebrations, so progress is smooth until you have to stop an one-machine show in the heart of castle. Unfortunately, the fate of the YorHa soliders is not pleasent, but this chain of events does lead into something not quite unexpected at this point.NieR:Automata_20170323155019

Pacifist machines. Better yet, they’re into philosophy.

After making introductory rounds, 2B and 9S are met with shocking news; Goliaths are attacking the city ruins where the Resistance is station. Even though the recently discovered machine village is suspected of laying a trap, it’s quickly put aside to actually deal with the threat. Upon disposing of the second Goliath, however, something strange is discovered in the aftermath left behind.NieR:Automata_20170323200309

This chasm is more important than you’ll ever realize.

Following the strange signal underground, however, leads to the first of many shocking revelations, and the official introduction of two familiar adversaries.NieR:Automata_20170323204157

Our greetings.

The ensuring fight ends in a stalemate, promising another encounter between the two pairs. However, more pressing matters await, as Command tells the two androids to investigate the leader of the pacifist machines, who in turn, sends them to contend with a group of machines who live in a “forest kingdom” that they built. It’s a hack-and-slash journey through the loyal machines, but the ending is not quite what they expected.maxresdefault

This android doesn’t feel the need to hide her true self…

Despite orders to dispatch this rogue android, she takes off on her own agenda. At this point, the two decide to check in on the Resistance camp, where they are suddenly tasked with guard duty. The escort? A payload of missiles. Guarding the missiles in itself is no chore, but then the supply ship itself suddenly comes under fire, after which point protecting it is no longer an issue…NieR:Automata_20170408013512

Mecha-Sin: Yevon’s new lord and savior.

It’s an intense fight, at the conclusion of which 2B and 9S are seperated. After obtaining a Scanner program for her Pod, 2B manages to track down 9S’ location to a baffling area; a fabricated, colorless array of blocks arranged into something like a city. And at the end awaits one of the two heads of the machine network.maxresdefault (1)

What happened here may be explained in an alternate reality.

The following struggle between the two ends with 2B killing her adversary. After bringing 9S’ data back to The Bunker, she is enlisted by the head of the machine village to accompany him to meet another group of machines that desire peace. This takes them back to the abandoned factory (from all the way back in the beginning), and to the dismay of them, leads them directly into the midst of what is actually a machine cult of all things…hqdefault

Renounce your false religion…

With some outside assistance from 9S, escape from the factory is possible. However, things quickly go from bad to worse, as the other half of the network starts to experience a slight malfunction… causing some of the machines to go berserk and begin wrecking not only the Resistance camp, but the machine village as well. 2B and 9S manage to stay them off, buying enough time for them to strike at the source itself.NieR:Automata_20170402001732

Putting an end to the chaos.

Broken and battered, 2B still manages to kill off the other side of the network and bring the machines back to normal (whatever that is.), but payment must be paved twofold, as they say…NieR:Automata_20170402003629

And that’s simply just the first ending. There’s a set of five main endings, and twenty-one non-canonical endings, for a grand total of twenty-six endings and off-shoots. The fun’s just beginning here.NieR:Automata_20170408021357

The choices are yours, and yours alone.

Armaments of a fighter.

There’s three distinct game play styles. The first one you’re introduced to is vertical shooter style, which probably could have been taken out and not have anything lost. This only ever applies to whenever you take a Flight Unit for scripted battle sets, and even then, it only applies to half of each set.

More prominent than that, however, is when your Flight Unit transforms into a Gundem-light knockoff. Your controls become that of a twin-stick shooter at that point. This is not only the other half of your Flight Unit sections, but is also the control setup for the hacking minigame. It’s a little awkward to get used to it, however, and precision is a bit of a chore for controllers. In addition, most of the challenge doesn’t come from unique challenge, but rather how many bullets can you slide around, which may be a bit overwhelming for people who are not used to this type of third-person shooter content.NieR:Automata_20170403005825

Still, it’s a lot easier than real world hacking…

The main gameplay style you’ll be working with, however, is more traditional hack-and-slash combat. It’s set up like a mix Devil May Cry and God Of War. There’s no style ranking, so it’s less about combos and more about finding your openings between enemy attacks to take them down. There’s four weapon types than handle differently, and you’re able to assign two different weapons to a Light and Heavy (Square and Triangle respectively) attack, which can do different things both seperately and when mixed together depending on your weapon type. Holding down R1 fires off your Pod, which faces in the same direction as the camera. It’s a strange design at first, but you can effectively damage two fronts at once after you learn to set up. L1 uses a Pod’s equipped program, a sort of extra attack you can perform on cooldown. These range from really useful (Hammer) to siuationally useful (Spear), to almost useless (Gravity). There’s enough variety to let you find something to compliment your play style however. R2 lets you perform an evade, and evading just before an attack hits sets you up for a counter attack that does something different depending on which attack button you hit. You’re going to be evading a lot in this game, so learning when to prop an enemy into the air or simply blowing it up is key to helping improve your combat life. L2 lets you lock onto an enemy, but, honestly, I found it to be a hindrance in this game. It’s designed to help aim your Pod easier, but this game sometimes has targeting issues where you’ll sometimes lock onto an enemy halfway across the field instead of the one right in your face that you wanted to lock onto. In addition, harder difficulties actually disable your ability to lock on, so it becomes a double-miss in my book. The combat isn’t built around requiring singling out enemies, however, so you can take or leave it as you will.NieR:Automata_20170401235155

Combat can be as fast or as methodical as you like. Just be careful of getting tossed into the air.

Throughout your adventure/genocide of all things mechanical, you’ll come across Plug-In Chips. These define everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) your android fighter is capable of doing and seeing. Like with Pod Programs, there’s a fair amount of variety to them, but some are going to be more clearly useful than others, especially given the limited space you have to install.

As far as moving around in the world, X lets you jump. Pressing X again in midair gives you a double jump, and holding down X lets you grab onto your pod to glide down to safety. Yes, there is fall damage in the game, but you kind of have to go out of your way to encounter, as you’ll often land on your feet anyway. Pressing R2 lets you perform an evade, even outside of battle, and I mention this because after an evade dash, you’ll run instead of jog, and after enough time running, you’ll move into a sprint that lets you cover ground the quickest. The game doesn’t tell you this, it’s something you’ll have to learn on your own (or by having someone like me tell you that you can do this.) The world only consists of five major areas and a couple additional side areas that the plot takes you to, so it’s a rather condensed world. Despite that, however, I wish that there was a little more inter connectivity between the areas, especially with the desert. A lot of side quests either take place, or take you back to the desert and there’s only one way to get into the desert. Granted, you will get access to a quick-travel option to help cut down on walking, but that happens halfway through the first playthrough, and by that time, you’ll probably have missed a few sidequests in that time. The same thing could be said of the abandoned factory as well and overall these two areas could have been better interconnected with the rest of the world.NieR:Automata_20170323195736

By the end of your first go around, you’ll probably be sick of all this sand.

Walking the streets of a ruined Earth

Despite the general inconsistency in running between areas, exploration can be a rewarding things. There are chests and item spots scattered all over to help reward you for going off the beaten path. While you’ll mostly get materials for upgrading weapons from these, you’ll also sometimes find brand new weapons in general, or even a little backstory lore for your trouble.

You’ll also find a bunch of side quests throughout the world as well, and these range from world-building, to outright silly, to some combination of both.NieR:Automata_20170323200534

Yes. Escorting a machine clown parade is one of the many things you can do.

Side quests will also give you materials and weapons to work with for your trouble, as well as occasional other things like new Pod Programs or Plug-In Chips. It’s worth going out of your way to do them, but a lot of them are missable, so it may take you a few playthroughs to track them all down.NieR:Automata_20170323202122

Want to know what happened here? Just another of many side quests you can do.

Parting Notes

The time you’ll spend in NieR: Automata is most likely going to spent deciphering the rabbit hole. Some things are more easily picked up than others, and others will have to be pieced together in order to discover what’s really going on. By the end, you’ll most likely wonder just what, exactly, you were fighting for, and I believe that was the point. This not a story of a singular good versus a singular evil, of great conquests or epic battles. This story is about two androids and the loss and struggles they have to contend with as they undertake their missions in the name of YorHa.

The gameplay is a solid experience throughout, with no glaring flaws to look at, the world is constructed to tell an experience with it’s side quests and environments, and the facts you find are not always directly given to you.

If you appreciate a story that doesn’t pull punches, and a solid combat experience to accompany it, I’d recommend giving Automata a try. You won’t be disappointed.

~Komoto Raynar

Final Fantasy XV: Not-So-Final, and May Many More Be Made

I spend a lot of time thinking about Final Fantasy XV. Even when I’m not playing it, even as I’m playing other games, I find my thoughts turning towards the experiences I had with this game, and comparing and contrasting. It is by no means a perfect game, but it is a great, and interesting, one.

Final Fantasy has been a part of my life for as long as I’ve been playing games. One of the reasons I wanted a Playstation 2 as a child was because of the fun I had playing X with my friend in middle school, and even before that, my favorite GameBoy Color game had the Final Fantasy name attached (despite the fact it was actually an entirely different series). I’ve gone far out of my way to experience as many games in the franchise as I could since then, and as great as many of them are, XV simply blows them out of the water. And in order to fully understand why, I feel like you have to understand the series as a whole.

To begin with, XV is a much different experience than any previous entry in the series. Whereas the early entries were “open-world” in the sense that you could, theoretically, head in any direction you wanted, what that really translated to was being murdered by a pack of level 60 wolves as soon as you accidentally crossed an invisible level-barrier. Later entries gradually moved in a linear direction, culminating in X which was essentially a series of twisting hallways. XII tried to return to the “open-world” feeling of old, although it essentially just expanded the hallways into rooms and put nothing but monsters in them. This is the first game to attempt openness and truly achieve it, creating a vibrant world with beautiful landmarks, memorable and impossible to get lost in. It’s filled with dungeons to explore, mountains to climb, dangerous creatures to fight, and sweet, succulent fish to catch.

I can genuinely immerse myself in the world of Eos, and feel the plight of both my party and the general citizenry as they constantly face the threat of the Empire (because there’s always an Empire) and daemons. I struggle as they struggle, though occasionally that’s more with the mechanics of the game than anything else.

There is a single, pervasive flaw in the game’s mechanics, and that is Square’s attempts to apply realism to a universe that also includes magically-appearing weapons and colossi the size of a continent. Noctis can only sprint for a short while, after which he gets winded and can only jog for a period of time. There is no actual stamina meter (edit: apparently there is, but it’s off by default), so you won’t know if Noctis is about to stop to breathe until he’s actually doing so. Weapon animations cannot be cancelled in order to dodge or warp out of the way, meaning you have to wait for your giant greatsword to hit the ground before you can run away from the incoming giant spider. Magic, while powerful, will affect the environment and your party members, leading to tough decisions between quickly decimating your enemies with an Electron spell and risking severely injuring Ignis, or trying to survive in a much longer life-or-death struggle. These mechanics can lead to intense and exhilarating battles, but often they come across as cheap ways for the game to score a few hits.

Beyond that, however, the combat is amazing. Noctis’s Warp ability allows for fluid and fast action, quickly closing in on enemy’s to score a couple of blows, and then retreating to a safe place to restore life. His Royal Arms come with unique capabilities and fighting styles at the expense of loss of hit points every time a hit is made, allowing for different strategies, which the game’s four weapon slots greatly accommodate. You can have a familiar weapon equipped and ready to use at all times, while also being able to play around with other weapon styles without constantly accessing a menu. Your different party members are active in battle (though some last longer than others once the going gets tough), and they each have strong techniques you can command them to use in battle. Of particular note is Prompto’s Gravisphere, which draws in smaller enemies and does constant damage to everything in it’s radius, and Ignis’s Overwhelm, which causes the whole party to unleash a series of devastating, simultaneous attacks on a single target.

Boss fights are the highlight of the game’s combat, though. Most of them take a page right out of Kingdom Hearts and turn what might have been a traditional, arena-like boss into an enormous, unforgettable spectacle. The first time you fight Titan, your jaw will drop so far you’ll have to have it surgically replaced. The story bosses can come across as very scripted (especially in regards to Leviathan, who is more of a story setpiece than an actual boss fight), but the optional bosses available later in the game blend spectacle and gameplay very well (take the Zu hunt at the Rock of Ravatogh. Just trust me on this one.)

The sidequests are plentiful and lead to some of the best gameplay you’ll find in XV, but the characters who give them are often very dull and uninteresting and the objectives are very MMO-esque in their execution. It will almost always be “go to this place and find this thing” or “go to this place and fight this thing” or, in the case of my least favorite series of sidequests in the game, “fight this monster until it drops this item for me”. The Catoblepas hunt was one of the most exciting fights I had in the game… the first time I fought it. But then it didn’t drop what I needed, and I had to fight it again. Five more times, in fact. It ceased to be fun and became more of a chore. Those don’t crop up too often, but it will almost always be the same character who gives them to you, and you’ll get sick of them fast.

The dungeons and the hunts are where the sidequests really shine through. They eschew any pretense of characterization or urgent dilemmas, and instead set you on a course to an interesting boss fight or difficult gang of monsters, with no flavor text added. When you enter a dungeon, you open a sidequest, and the sole objective of said quest is to “defeat the monster in the dungeon’s inner sanctum”. When you take a hunt, you get pointed to the general vicinity of the monsters you need to defeat. No unnecessary reasons for why you’re doing this are given, the game simply sets you on the course to more of the thing you’re playing the game for.

Each of your party members is also given a certain hobby that affects your gameplay. Noctis has the only truly interactive one with fishing. This guy loves to fish, as you’ll learn when he squeals with glee upon seeing the game’s first available fishing spot at Galdin Quay (or outside of Insomnia, if you turned around before the end of Chapter One). This is the best fishing minigame I’ve ever seen, as proven by the fact that my friend and I have taken to calling it “Epic Fishing Action!” You can lose hours upon hours of gameplay just to trying to catch the next big haul, and it is honestly one of my favorite parts of the game. Best of all, it directly ties in to Ignis’s own hobby of cooking. When you rest at a campsite, Ignis will cook the party up a lovely, stat-boosting meal, so long as you have the recipes and ingredients. And Ignis will learn a lot of recipes with many different effects. Too many, really. You’ll be hearing about how he’s “come up with a new recipe” very often.

Prompto’s hobby is photography, as you’ll learn five minutes in and be reminded of constantly if you drive so much as half a mile in your car. Seriously, you can’t get this guy to shut up about taking pictures. Although, once you start looking at them and picking out your favorites to save, you’ll probably be talking about them quite a bit, as well. His hobby is, however, the one that affects gameplay the least, although it is also the only one tied to the main story. Gladiolus’s skill is survival, which is the one you have the least control over. Basically, he finds items after a battle. As it levels up, he can find better items. That’s about it.

The main party, as characters, can quickly get you invested in the game. All four are instantly likeable (though some may not remain that way through the end) and you’ll pick up on the ones you like most quickly. For me, I like Noctis and Prompto the most, so I’m going to address them first. Noctis is a great main character, first of all. I’ve read that he was meant to be a kind of foil to both Cloud (from Final Fantasy VII) and Sora (from Kingdom Hearts), and he definitely accomplishes this. He goes through heavy and deep emotional trauma, from before the game even begins through to the final battle, but rather than distancing himself from his friends, he finds solace and guidance in them. He’s angsty, but also quiet, shy, and awkward, while also easily excitable by the things he loves, like fishing. He also perpetually looks forward (save for one justifiable instance in the story) and works hard to accomplish his goals. There could not have been a better viewpoint character for XV than Noctis.

Prompto is ever cheerful, a fun-loving, over-the-top ham, who masks his deep-seated insecurities to better support the friends he cherishes. He’s the most inexperienced of the group, as well as the most recent addition to the quartet, so he overcompensates a lot so he feels like he belongs.And as the story goes on, you’ll begin to see the facade loosen gradually, until he’s comfortable sharing his darkest secrets with the others.

Ignis is essentially Noct’s caretaker, as he cooks for him, chauffeurs for him, and in general is the primary voice of reason in the quartet. He’s studious and proper, and rarely ever becomes less than that, even at his most upset.

Gladiolus is, quite honestly, my least favorite main-story character. What starts off seeming like a fully fleshed-out character will later reveal himself to be incredibly flat, never truly developing, and being the source of some of the most unnecessary intra-party conflict in the game.

You might notice that beyond Noctis, there’s not really much to say about the other three, and that would be due to the other major problem with the game; the writing. The game was clearly rushed out with an unfinished story, and while Square has stated they will be adding more to it over the months, as it stands any character beyond Noctis have barely serviceable amounts of screentime. Characters are introduced as if they’ll be important for the entirety of the game, only to drop away after a couple of chapters (or, in truly offensive instances like Cor, the chapter in which they’re introduced). Villainous characters beyond the primary Big Bad have a few lines of dialogue at best (Lo’qi and Ravus are primary offenders in this regard).

The story itself suffers from this rushed writing. The first half of the game encourages you to take your time and explore the world, but as soon as you enter the second half of the game, you are put on a literal train ride until near the end of the game. Chapter 14 was honestly the biggest disappointment for me. What could have been a World of Ruin trek similar to the second half of Final Fantasy VI is made entirely linear, sending you directly to Hammerhead, and from there, straight to the final boss, with no possibility for exploration. It was a painful waste of potential.

Overall, Final Fantasy XV is an absolutely gripping game, simply marred by design choices and a (somewhat understandable) rushing to market. After Square Enix failed to impress during the Playstation 3 era, they really needed another game to truly re-solidify themselves as a prominent JRPG developer and publisher, and Final Fantasy XV is that game. The gameplay is a step above, although if you’re looking for a truly compelling story, I would suggest seeing what they’ve added in six months.

Console: Playstation 4

Developed by: Square Enix

Year Released: 2016

Genre: Action JRPG

 

 

 

 

Retro Review- Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia

When I was a child, I only had one gaming system; a Game Boy Color. The first game I ever got truly invested in was a little game called Final Fantasy Legend II, and that one game has influenced my taste in games ever since. The JRPG genre is what dominates my gaming life, and when I go to a store to buy a new game, they are often what I look for first. So it was that I happened across this game, Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia. Can I say “game” anymore in this paragraph? Yes, I can, because Ar tonelico is one of the gamiest games to have ever gamed.

I don’t mean that as a bad thing, though it can definitely be taken as one. Ar tonelico is definitely not for everybody. I’m still not quite sure if it’s even for me. It’s one of those games where you don’t need to think a whole lot, and it doesn’t want you to think a lot. It holds your hand the whole way, never giving you any real mystery to the plot and never giving you any mechanics that require real skill or talent. It is a “game” by the strictest definition, in that you play it, it’s possible to fail, and you may or may not get any real satisfaction or joy from it.

First, I want to point out that this game was released in 2007, near the end of the Playstation 2’s lifespan. Ar tonelico itself does not look like it was even released on the PS2. It’s got a very simple graphical style, comparable to the Atelier Iris games, except without the cartoonish charm of the latter. It just looks dull and uninspired, with every scene (with a handful of minor exceptions) playing out with waist-up portraits of characters speaking, as opposed to any real cutscenes. It can detract significantly from the experience.

In fact, this game is essentially an Atelier Iris game in all but name. The combat is almost exactly the same, except it trades the nuance and forethought in the Atelier battle system for a much simpler version, which allows you to cast a powerful spell at any point in the battle so long as you sat there waiting long enough. It’s tedious and boring, and I often find myself using items to ward off battles after a long time playing.

Ar tonelico also took Atelier Iris’s crafting system. It just took it. The game didn’t change anything about it, except now all items used in crafting are drops from enemies, with very few overworld spots with items. All crafting takes is being able to tolerate slogging through enough enemies to get the required items.

Map navigation is boring and, at times, confusing. I’m not even sure how to describe it, as you move through names of locations on a general map, only you’re always centered on the place you’re currently looking at, with only adjacent area names shown. Then you use the directional pad or left stick to choose which direction you want to go. I truly pray for you if you don’t remember which direction a certain location was, as you might get lost trying to find it.

Dungeon navigation is no better. There are no clear borders on any of the screens, so at some random point you’ll just find yourself moving to the next screen. This is even true of dungeon-exit borders, as well. The game doesn’t designate them at all, meaning you could also just find yourself out on the world map again, without even a prompt asking if you’d like to leave. It’s such a simple thing that could save loads of frustration with just an easy fix.

Ar tonelico is very shoddy on a technical level, as well. The lag in cutscenes can get so bad that voice-overs and music will pause while the game loads the rest of the scene, which again, are little more than still-portraits of characters that occasionally change expression. The lag is present in battles as well, as casting any spell with your Reyvateil (i.e. the central mechanic of the battle system) will result in slowdown and even moments of complete standstill, which can make trying to perform any well-timed spellcasts practically impossible.

Speaking of the voice acting, I’m not sure these actors even care. They aren’t even comparable to blocks of wood, as wood would have more inflection and nuance. The only one who isn’t entirely terrible is Vic Mignogna, who suffers from the entirely separate problem of being Vic Mignogna.

All this is without even touching on the big reason for this game’s existence, the Dive mechanic. You Dive into the souls of your Reyvateil companions to help them through their inner demons and such, which is treated as being as awkwardly intimate as sexual intercourse. Once inside their “Cosmosphere,” you basically play through a linear visual novel to reach the end. There aren’t any dialogue options or choices to make it difficult or interesting, it just serves as a means to further the character development of the Reyvateil in question.

The characters themselves are actually interesting, and I do occasionally feel for them, but it does little to lift the drab mess surrounding them. They have secrets and fears and relationships with each other, none of which seem stupid or exaggerated, and it really helps to make them feel like actual people. The exception to this would be Lyner, the main character, who suffers from Protagonist Syndrome, in which he has the bare minimum personality so you can insert yourself into his position better.

In the end, I can’t really recommend this game. I had some fun with it in the start, but the further in I went, the less anything interesting happened. Ar tonelico has so much promise, and on the outside, looks incredibly interesting, but the packaging is deceiving. It hides a sub-par, confusing, laggy mess of a game, which steals far too much from better games that came before it. Even if you’re a die-hard fan of JRPG’s, there’s not much for you in this game. Just get Atelier Iris instead, and avoid this at all costs.

Console: Playstation 2

Developed by: Gust Corporation

Year Released: 2007

Genre: Active Time JRPG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did I mention that this game is priced upwards of $50? That’s way too expensive for this drivel.