Let’s Talk – Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist And The Mysterious Book – A Novel Experience

So as my adventures through the Atelier series continue, and while I wait for the many games that are coming out this September that I’m going to play (Help me), I turn my thoughts towards the game before Firis’ mysterious adventures in the great unknowns, and that is the story of how Sophie Neuenmuller got to be the alchemist that she is.

Though if you’re not familiar with her from either game, I should probably discuss Sophie first…Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20170730115318

She is a lovable and adorable goof that makes me smile in almost every scene she’s in. Considering that she’s the protagonist of our little show, and thus is in every scene, that’s quite a lot of time spent enoying the various antics and dialogue. She’s also voiced by Christine Marie Cabanos, who does the English voice work for Nepgear from the Neptunia games, another series that I love to pieces. The performance doesn’t tonally change between the two characters, but it also fits both of them quite well considering their… quirks.

Positive attitude and bravado only get a girl so far though. When the game starts off, she’s barely able to make simple medicines to help her friends out. It is only by complete happenstance that she wrote down the recipe into a blank reference index, animating it into the titular “Mysterious Book”. After the initial shock of holding a conversation with a book, it introduces itself as Plachta, and agrees to instruct Sophie on how to become a better alchemist, provided that Sophie fills out the index to help restore Plachta’s memories.

Before I get into that though, I just want to talk about Kirchen Bell for a little bit. Most Atelier games typically give you one town that works as a sort of base of operations. Sophie’s hometown of Kirchen Bell fills that role for this game… and it’s such a quaint little city in the middle of nowhere (far as I can tell). There’s a lot of little dialogue events that come up throughout the game as you talk to everyone in town. Not just your party members, but even the shopkeepers, the barkeep, and the resident church nun all have a bunch of little things that come up that make me want to know “What happens next?” And I think that’s the real driving force behind why I play this particular game. Not so much for the lost alchemical secrets or fighting dangerous enemies. I just want to know these townspeople better. And for a series that typically has about as much focus on inter-character relationships as a Persona game, this is a pretty big deal. Incindental flirting notwithstanding.Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20170730121858

Alchemy in this game is like others in the series: Take a bunch of things, mix them around a bit, and out comes something different. If you think that’s a oversimplification of the process, you’re right.

This game sets the groundwork for the Mysterious series’ alchemy, which makes it more of a puzzle than anything. Your selected materials take up spaces in the grid, which you aline (or overwrite) them to try to get the best effect results. Sophie has two advantages over Firis in this respect though.

One: As you place materials, surrounding panels light up. These will add bonus points to the effect of the material placed in them. Panels can light up a maximum of three times for the greatest power, and figuring out how to best place your materials to get the most of these bonuses adds a level of challenge that isn’t really in Firis’ system.

Two: Sophie will find various cauldrons aside from the one she starts with throughout the game. These cauldrons have various effects on the synthesis process, such as changing the colors of bonus panels to giving you a time limit while increasing your quality gains. You can even re-synthesize these cauldrons to increase your maximum grid space, increasing the starting number of bonus panels, or add in flip and rotate effects. Messing around with the various cauldrons to find what works best for you adds just a little more to the alchemy in this game.

In short, I have a bit more fun with this game’s system over Firis’. Even if the latter is a little more streamlined and easier to work with.Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20170822111326

(My personal favorite is the Tuning Cauldron.)

One thing I can definitely say that drags down the whole experience a bit is the Recipe Book. Not that I have a problem with the concept, in that respect, it’s very Atelier-ish. However, only certain recipes are given hints at a time, and once you figure those out, surrounding recipes get hints. It starts off easy to figure out at first, but as you get into the higher tiers, you’ll have to take random guesses at figuring out a location that you’re supposed to observe, or find a particular enemy to use a particular skill and witness. One of these is basically going until your LP hits 0, but by the time you unlock that tier, running out of LP is something you have to force. Some recipes are locked behind events as well, and while those are harder to miss, it can still leave spaces in the book for a little bit. There’s no way to force inspiration on any of these either, so for the most part, you’re hoping that you strike proverbial gold on some of the harder ones.

“Alchemy” and “Danger” are pretty synonymous in this series. Gathering materials out in the fields you go to raises a meter on your minimap that goes up to five lights. The more lights that are lit up, the better quality of materials you can find, but the monsters also become stronger and harder to deal with. That’s where the battle system comes into play… and it’s a little weird to deal with at first.

Unlike 90% of other RPGs where you decide actions on a character-by-character basis, you’re deciding actions on a turn-by-turn basis, where you place your commands all at once, and the battle flow dictates when they’ll go off. It gave me Eternal Punishment vibes at first.

Everyone has an Attack, Defend, Skill, Item and Run command. Everyone in this game can equip up to five alchemy items, everyone except Sophie has a limit on what items they can equip, in terms of type and cost (An item’s cost is equal to it’s Alchemy level). Not necessarily my favorite means of handling the alchemy items, but it’s better than, say, only the alchemist can ever use these items and therefore makes them the most important person in the party ever.Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20170816233556

On top of the basic stuff, there’s also two stances you can select for your party members, Offensive and Defensive. These tie into the Support system, which lets the characters follow-up on attacks or cover others for reduced damage. Taking actions builds up the Chain Link gauge, which determines when and how you can Support, and as you go through the game, Supports get expanded onto enable Chain Supports and even unleashing ultimate skills as you take actions in a particular stance for multiple characters in a row. Once you get that far, it’s a really powerful system on par with the actual alchemy items you can toss out, which is pretty crazy to me, but hey, it’s nice to have options.

Another oddity about this game is it has one of the lowest level caps I’ve seen since the NES/SNES days; 20. You cap out at 20.

That sounds low, but the game gives you some advantages to work with this.

First off being the Advancement system, returning from Shallie, that comes into play once you hit 20. Afterward, battles reward you Advancement Experience which will give you a point everytime you reach a threshold. Said points can be redeemed for stat upgrades, all new passives, and even skill improvements that add new effects. These can really help out in toughening up your characters at a base level for handling some of the bigger threats you can encounter throughout the game.Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20170816220705

The second and arguably most important is Forging and especially Enhancing equipment. As you talk with the local blacksmith and tailor, they will eventually offer to both create new weapons and armor for you, and enhance existing ones on you. Forging is a pretty simple process: You bring materials, they’ll make things for you. Better stuff becomes available as you discover better materials for Forging. Forging also serves as a way to decide what traits a weapon or armor has. So if you ever wanted to half your skills’ MP costs while also increasing their power by 50% at the same time, you can do that.

What’s really going to make or break your battle experience is proper Enhancement of your already made weapons and armor. Enhancement lets you take a material (metal ingots for weapons, rolls of cloth for armor) and use it to reinforce equipment. What you get out of it is dependent on what traits are on the material. And there’s nothing quite like using a Parameter +13% and/or higher traits to just power boost all of your stats. Enhancement does suffer diminishing returns, especially if you try to use low grade stuff on already enhanced equipment, and it gets really expensive at later levels, but it will make you so much more powerful than you could ever hope for by just leveling up.Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20170816221214

Now for the music, which by this point in time, as I’m going back and playing more of the Atelier series to date, is starting to become one of the things I look forward to the most in experiencing them. For this game, Spring Breeze Polska is probably my favorite workshop theme in the series next to Dream Weaving House (from Ayesha). It’s an incredibly bright and cheery theme that I really appreciate listening to as I attempt to figure out how exactly I went wrong in maxing out an item’s effects for the tenth time in a row. This also extends to Scenery Of The Town, which is what plays as you walk around Kirchen Bell, and the basic battle theme, Spring Wind Skylark.

The other 70% of the music is from the gathering fields, and honestly, you’re probably not really taking it as much as the town and workshop themes since you’re a little busy picking stuff off the ground and fighting off those dreaded Puni. But I recommend giving Whispers Of Trees, Sinking Into Blue, Glistening Lake and Pure Wind a couple listens. These are all calming tracks that can actually help you unwind a bit if you’ve had a stressful day.

At the end of day though, I ultimately have to compare the current two Mysterious games together, and I’d have to say that Sophie is an easier game to get into than Firis’ more open structure. A lot of things are more straight-forward to grasp, it’s a more confined game in how it works (that sounds like a downside, but it actually isn’t in this case), a really likable protagonist and cast of party members and side characters, with only a couple negatives I could really mention off the top of my head. The production value might look a little low in a few places, but this definitely made something great out of what it had, and I’d gladly chalk up as one my favorite Atelier games, possibly even PS4 games in general. If you haven’t checked this out yet, you’re really missing out. Luckily, there is a convenient digital version on Steam if you don’t have a PS4 to play it – Mysterious Deals

As a closing note, I’m looking forward to how Atelier Lidy And Soeur (The Alchemists Of The Mysterious Painting as I’ve taken to calling it.) will turn out. It’s definitely going on my list of games to buy when it comes out.

With that said, I’ll see you in the next post. In the meantime, though…Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20170817003409

Advertisements

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

 

 

 

 

Nuclear Throne: A Fallout of Deathly Proportions

Nuclear Throne was a very pleasant surprise, at least compared to my actual expectations for it. I fully believed this was just another one of those indie games that people loved just for the retro nostalgia they felt while playing it. I was not expecting to get completely addicted to it, playing it with my friend for 8 hours straight.

Not that we ever got any better at the game, because Nuclear Throne is not nearly that kind. It is a hellish torment upon those who don’t regularly play horrifically difficult games, and being an avid player of narrative-driven RPG’s, those are basically my exact opposite.

The gameplay is easy to get used to, but oh-so-difficult to master. Balancing between the floaty, imprecise cross-hairs (which can be made more precise with certain upgrades), conserving the ammo for your guns, dodging the maelstrom of bullets inevitably headed your way, and actually remembering your character’s unique ability and how it works is so convoluted, due to how many of them you have to pay attention to simultaneously. That intense difficulty is what really makes the game so much fun, though. Once you’ve had your first moment of skillful, or even just incredibly lucky, gameplay, you’ll be hooked.

The character designs are simple, but memorable. No character feels particularly worse than the others (though I have only unlocked up to Plant), demonstrating a good balance in character power. They all come with unique abilities, some easier to use than others. For example, Fish can roll, allowing him to dodge enemy fire easier than other characters, while Eyes can use telekinesis to move projectiles away from him, and Crystal can use a shield to block enemy fire for a few seconds at a time. Melting in particular has an amazing ability that blows up the corpses of any enemies on the screen, dealing massive damage to their compatriots. In return, however, he only has two hit points in a game where that amounts to a single hit from enemy fire. I love using him.

The weapons can be hit-and-miss. You can find things like assault rifles and SMG’s, which up rate of fire and are generally safe to keep around. You’ll also run across shotguns and sluggers, which bounce off walls to deal with some trickier enemies. Sometimes you’ll even find weapons like grenade launchers and disc guns, which deal incredible damage, but run the risk of hitting and damaging your character, as well.

Boss fights are intense, and you will run in terror every time you see one of their intro screens. They can break out of a wall anywhere in the level, leading to chaos if you haven’t cleared out a significant amount of regular enemies up to that point. One time, I even had the boss of World 1 enter the map right where I was standing, causing an instantaneous death and lots of grumbling from everyone in the room about how unfair it was.

That’s really the biggest catch with Nuclear Throne. It’s a challenging game, and many times when you die it is your fault, but there are times when the random number generator simply decides you will die. In eight hours of playing and somewhere around 140 deaths between 2 players, I would say that at least 30 of those deaths were out of our control, be it from a boss appearing on top of us or starting level 2-1 surrounded on all sides by rats with no means of escape.

I really wish I could talk about the story of this game, but I’m still not entirely sure there is one. If there is, you have to be a lot better at this game than I am to start seeing it. The farthest I ever got was level 3-3, and the I.D.P.D. (Inter-Dimensional Police Department, I believe) began to show up and wrecked me completely. I have never made it that far again.

I definitely will, though, because for all the complaints I have about how unfair it is, the game is still incredibly addicting. I just want to keep playing it. And as far as I’m concerned, any game that gets me invested that much without even giving me much of a story is definitely worth a buy. If you don’t already have Nuclear Throne, get it. I promise you won’t regret it.

Indiebox Review: Nuclear Throne (January #IndieBox)

Right before the year ended, Indiebox decided to raise the prices of their boxes, saying that they would be using the extra money to raise the quality of their boxes. Not wanting to miss out on an opportunity to add a monthly series to my site, I signed up for Indiebox right before the price raise so I could look at each one every month. I do want to note, this is not a review of the game Nuclear Throne (that will come later). This is a look at the actual box and the contents within.

SAM_0126

Starting off, I want to point out that I did buy the Indiebox once before deciding to start this. Back in October, I bought the Axiom Verge box, and was disappointed. One of the items you’re meant to get in the Indiebox is a USB physical copy of the game in question, free of any DRM. My Axiom Verge box did not come with the USB of the game, only the Steam key. When I talked to Indiebox support about it, they “solved” my problem by e-mailing me a link to the DRM-free content, rather than sending me the actual USB. I mention this because 90% of the reason I think Indiebox is a cool idea is because of the concept of having a physical copy of a game that was only released digitally, and it still frustrates me that they forgot it in my October box.

Luckily, this month I did receive the USB. It comes in the shape of one of Nuclear Throne’s unlockable characters, Chicken, and demonstrates his ability to fight on after losing his head by having the USB hidden in his neck. It was so hidden, in fact, that at first I thought they had forgotten to send me the game again, and I only realized where it was upon reading the Indiebox Newsletter’s list of box items. Regardless, the USB has a neat design and has an actual collectible feel to it as a result. It’s definitely my favorite aspect of the box.

SAM_0119

Moving beyond that, the box is at least interesting. The title of the game is on a removable rectangle of plastic, so if you want, you can have the box look like it’s just the mouth. It’s well-designed and visually appealing. The box is very stiff, though, making it hard to open the top without bending the cardboard to a permanently noticeable degree. Also, if you don’t pack it back exactly right, the surrounding plastic won’t fit back around the box due to the bulges the items create, forcing you to repack the box. I feel like the rectangular plastic was an interesting touch in theory, but in practice, it would probable be better just to have the name on the box instead.

SAM_0132

The box came with three mini-figurines of bosses within the game. They’re made with decent material, feel light and soft in your hand, and there aren’t any extruding pieces or movable parts that might easily break. They would make a decent desk accessory, but in the end, they’re just something pretty to look at, and they’re so small that if you keep them out of the box, you’re bound to lose one or two eventually.

SAM_0130

As with every collector’s edition of a video game ever, Nuclear Throne’s box comes with a soundtrack CD. Personally, I’m not a fan of just listening to a game’s soundtrack. There are a few standout tracks in every game, and then a lot of what amounts to ambient noise. The music is best appreciated by hearing it during gameplay, as far as I’m concerned, but if you want the CD, here it is. The music’s pretty good, too, so if you’re really into video game music, this will be right up your alley.

SAM_0122

Also included within the box is a plushie Maggot, one of the regular enemies found within the game. Personally, I feel that going the plushie route was a poor choice for Indiebox, as it draws some negative comparison to LootCrate, infamous for including useless “collectible” garbage like this. The mini-figurines were at least interesting and well-made, allowing them some leniency as a genuine collector’s piece. Nobody collects plushies. It’s a very simple design, with an additional poor choice of having the zipper on top of the Maggot, rather than on the bottom. At least I assume that’s the top. It looks better that way than it does flipped, either way, so I’m calling it the top. At any rate, I would recommend Indiebox veer away from the plushies in future releases, as no matter how hard you try to sell it as one, there is nothing collectible about a cheap, half-assed attempt at being cute.

SAM_0129

I love instruction manuals. In the past couple years, as I’ve grown a bit of a collector’s mindset to my game-buying habits, I’ve started to refuse buying a lot of games unless they have the original case and manual. Flipping through a manual is just such a great feeling, so I have a bit of bias in that I will always love it when a game comes with a physical manual. If this box just had the manual and USB inside, that would be enough to satisfy me. Alas, this is the last good thing within the box. The rest, like the Maggot plushie, is LootCrate-style garbage.

“The rest” really just refers to these themed stickers. I hate stickers. The only thing less collectible than a sticker is a temporary tattoo. These are even worse than the plushie, which really infuriated me. Indiebox, if I wanted stickers and plushies, I’d be buying LootCrate. I’ve heard that you guys sometimes do things like themed controllers for your boxes. Do more things like that, things I can put to actual practical use and won’t damage the collectible value of my box when used, or at least more tangible objects like the figurines. I don’t want your garbage stickers. Please spend the sticker money elsewhere. Sincerely, Wombat Lord.

Overall, though, it’s a decent box. I can’t hate it, but it’s definitely a hit-and-miss effort. I will mention that not only did this box come with a USB copy and Steam key of the game, but also a Playstation Store code, giving you three copies of the game across two platforms. Add in the manual, mini-figurines, soundtrack CD, and the box itself, and this Indiebox was definitely worth the price. It’s just a shame they had to throw some leftover garbage in there, as well.

 

Fallout 4 Review: I Had A Falling Out With Myself

Fallout isn’t a game I thought I would actually like. When I was buying the PS4, there weren’t many games I could think of that I was really interested in, so I picked up Fallout 4 thinking it would be a decent time-waster, but nothing too spectacular. I was extraordinarily surprised when I got completely sucked into the world, and coming home from work became synonymous with playing Fallout.

I’ve never been a fan of open-world “sandboxes,” largely because I feel there’s a lack of direction given to a player. I also feel that there is such a thing as having too much content, which is something I felt when playing Bethesda’s previous game, Skyrim. Not only that, but I’m not exactly a fan of third- or first-person shooters, as I often have trouble with aiming guns in games. I’m much more comfortable in more hack-and-slashy experiences.

Fallout 4 addressed both of these usual grievances of mine, without falling out of their trappings completely. There is a lot to do in Fallout 4, but nothing takes up a whole series of quests except the main story and each of the four factions. All the side quests can be accomplished one at a time, in a single sitting, so it’s easy to just turn the game on, take a quest to clear out a building or find an item, and finish it before dinnertime. There’s always something to do, and it can always be done without ruining your social life (unless you let it).

Meanwhile, the V.A.T.S. system takes a lot of the frustration I have with shooters out of the game. Using ability points, you can slow time and auto-aim at specific parts of an enemy, allowing an easier battle. You will have to shoot regularly most of the time, but the system is still a great boon, as you can make a fight much easier to deal with very quickly, and often before it even begins.

Combat as a whole is very solid. There’s always adequate cover for the heavy battles, and smaller battles are usually handled out in the open to allow for quick dispatching of enemies. It does occasionally throw you a curveball you might not be able to handle without a few loads of a save, though. One particularly nasty enemy even shows up as a boss in one of the first story quests, long before you expect to have to fight something of its caliber. These happen seldom enough that I just consider it the game preparing me for what will come ahead, though.

My favorite part of the game is definitely the companion system, though. Throughout the game, you meet with people who will ask to travel with you, and each have likes and dislikes. As you rise higher in their sights, you learn more about who they are, and with many of them, you eventually gain the ability to romance them. At the highest level of affection, you unlock a special perk, unique to that character, which gives you increased experience on skill checks, more damage on a headshot, or one of many others depending on who’s with you.

The absolute best part, though, is that while your companion is travelling with you, they cannot die, ever. Enemies will critically wound them, but at that point start ignoring them, and your friend can no longer be damaged. You can heal them to instantly get them back in the fight, or wait for them to recover naturally, but you never need to worry about them dying. This is such a massive improvement on the companions system from Skyrim that I have no idea why Bethesda didn’t have it to begin with. No longer do you need to worry constantly, or cover them in a fight. It’s so much weight off the mind, and I love it so dearly (and not just because all my companions would die if not for this mechanic).

The main story is decently engaging, though it can occasionally throw something at you that you might not be able to handle. One story boss fight, in particular, starts you in the middle of a small office room, surrounded by enemies, a foot away from the boss himself. Expect a lot of loads on that one. A few quests later, and the game expects you to wade through a nuclear storm for 10-30 minutes, surrounded by the hardest enemies it thinks you could possibly handle. Take baby steps, though, and you’ll make it.

One thing I was wary of going into Fallout 4, based on Skyrim, is the idea that this game might have a silent protagonist. Other than the Dragon Quest series, I’m not really a fan of silent protagonists. The silent protagonist is supposed to allow you to slip into a character’s shoes, but for me, it usually just makes them completely un-relatable. That’s why I’m very glad that your character does have a voice in this game. You still choose how you want to react, but the character definitely has certain mannerisms in the way they speak which give them a sense of identity.

There’s a great crafting system for weapons and armor, which allows even basic items you find early on to be useable for quite a while, with the proper upgrades. The only drawback is that it requires you to carry a lot of junk with you so you can have the components required for upgrades, and it can weigh down your character quite a bit. Also, you don’t know what components an item has until you look at it in your inventory, meaning you could end up carrying a lot of junk which you’ll never use.

Altogether, this game is one of the best experiences I’ve had playing a game in a very long while, and there isn’t much that ruins that experience. Fallout 4 is a very well put-together game that definitely deserves a spot on your shelf if you have the time to put into it. It isn’t perfect, but it gets close enough for me.

Final Score

10/10

Phenomenal