Last we left off, Yomi had run off and our party decided to chase after him and try to convince him to join us, since he's the only guy with a character portrait in this town. We chase him down to the place we first met him, and catch him exterminating a whole bunch of monsters by himself. Turns out the reason he was having trouble with one weak monster when we first met him is because he just overdid it earlier, he's actually been guarding this area and exterminating the monsters around the settlement by himself for years, keeping it a secret. Ah, but why would there be any need for him to exterminate monsters after he helped one of the previous sacrifices fulfill her task? Yeah, turns out that didn't quite work out - we find out that he failed to protect the sacrifice and she died before reaching Land's End for the ritual. He's been here trying to 'atone' for his failure ever since. After a pep speech and another battle with sickle dude (who just teleports in and attacks Setsuna again without saying much), he's finally ready to give the whole sacrifice escort thing a second try.
We trek through the spooky cavern with Yomi in tow - I gave him a try, he's alright in combat I guess. Hard hitter, but I don't want to break up the original trio just yet. Actually I don't see myself changing my main party much - our silent masked hero is the protagonist, this is Setsuna's journey, and I just really love Kuon's design. Gonna be a hard sell to swap any of them out. After beating down the big cave monster boss we pop out at the city we were originally trying to find - it's a grand city with a nice port that has a ship which should take us to Land's End, but unfortunately the ship's mechanic is missing, we have to find him first. The leader here seems like a nice guy though - almost everyone in town loves him, says he keeps everyone safe, and he's even set up a refugee camp to the north where people fleeing the recent monster attacks and hardship can live, completely free of charge and without even needing to work! That sounds a little too good to be true, and some citizens do mention that it seems strange...I'm sure it's nothing. Anyway, we get tipped that we should maybe go check out the refugee camp to gather info on our missing ship mechanic, so we head off to the north.
On the way to the refugee camp, we run into a young boy with a tail being pursued by monsters and help him out - he introduces himself as Keel and he's not happy about being treated like a kid, butts heads with Yomi a lot. He convinces our party to watch after him temporarily to keep him safe, and makes a suspicious comment about him being a 'rare' specimen before pretending he didn't say anything. I'm not a big fan of his design, but I guess there are people who like these kinds of characters. Good for them, I'm not breaking up Endo/Setsuna/Kuon trio quite yet.
After some world map traveling, we hit refugee camp and start gathering info - seems a lot of people come and go from the camp according to the guard, hard to keep track of individuals. Still, we ask around and find an old man who seems to know both the ruler and our missing mechanic - he tells us about the mechanic's speech tic we can use to locate him, and also gives us a letter that he says should convince said mechanic to help us. So it's back to town we go, finding the guy with the speech tic in the bar and busting him, showing him the letter and going to inform this area's kind and benevolent leader. As a reward for finding his ship mechanic, he suddenly has his guards accost us and kidnaps Setsuna. Who could have ever guessed that the too-nice-to-be-true ruler was actually evil? We pursue him all the way to the ship and find out that he's been making deals with a mysterious third party - he provides them with a set amount of humans on a periodic basis, and in return his land doesn't get attacked by monsters. I guess that 'refugee camp' wasn't such a paradise after all. Anyway, he tries to kickstart the ship himself after the mechanic refuses to help him (and the old man from the refugee camp who happens to be his dad, the previous ruler he drove out, comes down to help stop his son too). He's not good at controlling the magic core of the ship though and it overloads, about to explode. Things couldn't be worse - or maybe they could, since sickle dude teleports in and attacks us yet again. This fight has two targets, our sickle wielding edgelord and the engine. The characters not so subtly keep telling you to focus on the engine first, so I do that and when the engine goes down, the battle ends.
Well, our ship's core is blown, and worse - Setsuna was near the blast and she's in serious condition after she shielded Keel hen the engine exploded. Keel is impressed and offers to take her to his secret village, where he says they have magic that can heal her. We don't have much choice, so we take the kid up on his offer and set off with limping Setsuna in tow. Keel's village is hidden with illusion magic, but he helps guide us there. When we arrive, he tries to use the power running through this area's land to heal Setsuna, but his magic is too weak. Keel's species used to be a short-lived race that only had a life expectancy of 20 or so years, they were hunted by monsters drawn by their high magical ability, and they always envied humans for their comparative longevity. To 'solve' this problem, they came up with a ritual where infants have most of their magic extracted on birth and sealed away - it makes them nearly unable to use magic, but in exchange they got longer lifespans, since their high magical energy was the flame burning their lifespan down. Whenever monsters attack they just have to hide in their tents and wait for them to leave, which they eventually do because they're unintelligent beasts - or are they? Lately they've been getting smarter for some reason, and they even lay an ambush for the village chief, something they've never been coordinated or intelligent enough to do before. It's clear that the village won't be able to survive just hiding at this point, and Keel decides to go take back his magic even if it'll shorten his lifespan, retrieving it from the big rock they keep it in while we hold off monsters drawn to the energy. He takes that power and we get back to town just in time to save it from the biggest monster invasion yet, before, of course, telling the village elder that he's going to travel with us. He wants to stop hiding and make the best of his limited lifespan, some cheesy stuff about making the most of your time, quality > quantity, etc. etc. - failed to tug any heartstrings here, but whatever, welcome aboard kiddo. So far almost none of the fights have been remotely difficult, that is about to change.
Now that Setsuna's better we can continue our journey, but without a ship that means continuing on foot. The next mountain we pass has one of many optional enemy encounters scattered throughout the game that are tucked away in a side-path and can be easily bypassed. In fact, the characters straight up suggest that you don't pick a fight with them back when we first ran into one a couple areas earlier, so I didn't - here I went ahead and gave it a try, and got my first game over as super-powered versions of the regular enemies in the area destroyed my team with massive damage and freeze debuffs. I guess I could have farmed up some anti-frost and resupplied to try and take them on, but I just want to keep pushing forward for now. Endo excuses himself from the party for what everyone else probably thinks is just nature's call, but it's actually the call of the guy who gave him the task to kill Setsuna, and he's pissed. What's your deal Endo, why haven't you killed the sacrifice yet? Here, the player gets a lot of dialog options - you can choose to be stoic mercenary dude who insists that he's gonna kill her soon, or you can question why she needs to be killed in the first place and protest. I'm going with the goody two shoes dialog options pretty much every time for now, doesn't make sense to me otherwise, unless the main character is secretly an evil mastermind the simple fact that he hasn't killed her yet shows that he doesn't want to...I think so, anyway, and that's what I'm going with for now. Actually, the guy who gave us the order seems to have his own doubts about it too, he's not comfortable with it and doesn't understand what the purpose of killing a sacrifice whose fate is to die anyway is, but the master's orders are absolute. "Oh and psst, if you see me later in public, pretend we don't know each other!" With that warning, he slinks off and Endo rejoins the party.
Our next town is said to be headed by a legion of knights - but when we arrive, it's deserted except for a boy who we save from some monsters standing nearby, he says monsters dragged everyone off to a nearby cave. Off to rescue them - as we hack and slash through the cave, we find the monsters wrapping up villagers in webbing to use as preserved food, and find that they attacked the village while the knight squad was away from the village, again an unusually intelligent thing for the usually mindless monsters to do. At the innermost room, we run into the same boy we met in the village again earlier, that's odd - yeah, he's actually a bug monster thing and a boss battle ensues. After we beat him down, he tearfully slinks off into a back room mumbling about how he's gotta save his mom. We chase after him, and find him trying to protect a bigger, dead bug monster thing, his mom. He seems to think if he feeds her humans she'll get better, but he doesn't realize or understand the whole 'she's dead and not coming back thing'. So Setsuna, being the nice girl she is, sets little monster boy down and explains 'Your mom's dead and not coming back'. Okay, she actually phrased it nicer than that and talked about how she knows what it's like to lose a mom since hers died when she was young, and how his mom would always be with him and all that fuzzy warm-hearted stuff. Whew, it seems like as the time without a successful sacrifice gets longer, monsters evolve more complex feelings, and now Setsuna's not so sure about the whole killing monsters thing at all. He agrees to stop attacking the human village and we walk him to the entrance together to say goodbye.
Bad timing! The knight squad mentioned earlier shows up, headed by a princess with a very strange sense of fashion, a lance and a seriously bad attitude. She tries to skewer our bug-boy monster friend, and Setsuna jumps in between to block the attack, with Endo having to break it up, sending the monster back into the caves while we hold the knight captain off. This princess knight's name is Julion, heir to an ancient royal bloodline and leader of a movement that is trying to resurrect and rebuild their historic kingdom. She seems to be a bloodthirsty psycho though, but she does offer to help us cross a strait we're having difficulty crossing because of the bad footing. She's still thankful we saved her townsfolk and all.
We're in for another surprise when we return to town and see the same man who gave Endo the task to kill Setsuna! He's second-in-command of the knight squad here, and after an initial panic, he and Endo play it cool and pretend not to know each other. It seems Julion is not quite herself, she wasn't always this crazy - her old childhood friend would know best, he insists she's changed ever since a certain event. She once wandered into a snowstorm to try and save a comrade, and long after she should have been dead, suddenly returned one day. Ever since then she's been completely ruthless and bloodthirsty, to the point where she was about to execute two of her own men for 'turning their backs on the enemy' in their last fight even though they were just helping people escape to safety. We do manage to break that up, but some magic swirling in Julion goes berserk and knocks her unconscious, with her knights dragging her off to her bed and locking off her room to outsiders. We'll never get across that strait at this point! Her childhood friend comes to us asking for help - a merchant in town has medicine that can cure the condition that ails Julion, but he won't part with it except in exchange for some rare items from nearby monsters. Julion's condition is a weird one - humans normally have a 'magic type' similar to a blood type, and just like blood types, you should only be able to have one. Julion somehow has two different types ever since that day she returned, and it's driving her crazy.
Okay okay, I know where this is going...we go hunt the monsters down, bring the items back, get the medicine, and give it to Julion. With the condition lifted, it turns out she doesn't remember anything since that day she went off into the snowstorm. We tell her to get some rest, but sure enough, as we're about to leave town, she hobbles out and insists on joining us. She wants to see Land's End for herself, because not only is it the destination for our sacrifice travel, it's also the ancient homeland of her ruined kingdom, and she wants to see it with her own eyes. With Julion's help, we can now find stable footing to cross over the floating ice on the strait and make further progress toward Land's End. I tried Keel and Julion out in battle, but yet again, I find myself unable to break up my main squad of Endo/Setsuna/Kuon. Fortunately the game forced Setsuna out of my party for a while when she was injured earlier so I got to try out other characters, but in the end I still like this team best for now.
So far this game has been okay, the whole 'monster trying to protect mom' thing was kind of touching, but next up the game is just gonna punch us in the face with over the top and out of nowhere plot dump that's supposed to make us sad. In the next dungeon, Yomi suddenly passes out along with Endo, and the two of them wake up to see a bunch of Yomi's memories - it's basically a slideshow of Yomi's memories from his last time as a sacrifice's guard. He leaves with the sacrifice, a girl named Nanase, saying bye to Nanase's younger sister Mana before he goes. Drama drama, Nanase ends up succumbing to illness and dying, admitting that she always loved Yomi but that Yomi only had eyes for her younger sister Mana, and she could never quite get over it, figuring she could at least die as the sacrifice for him. And then the game drops the big reveal on us - turns out Mana was pregnant with Yomi's kid before he left to guard her sister Nanase, and that child is...Setsuna. Dun dun dunnnn. With Mana also dying, Yomi feels like he failed both Nanase and Mana and has never forgiven himself for it, but with the help of cheesy self-help dialog options from Endo, he gets over it and renews his determination to protect Setsuna this time. I'm sorry, but this was just really shoddily done - no buildup, supposed to feel bad about characters in his memories we met 30 seconds ago, just bad. Yomi asks Endo to keep the fact that he's Setsuna's real father a secret for now, and we continue onward.
Before we can move on, we run into sickle dude yet again for another battle - you know who hasn't had character focus in a while? Kuon. Well, sickle dude charges up a big kamehameha but Kuon somehow nullifies it with her own magic, amazing everyone and making them wonder exactly who she is to be able to summon that much magical energy. Mystery, mystery! Next up is a village near the magical barrier that surrounds Land's End. There should be a passageway through it, but the villagers here can't seem to remember it. They remember that it 'should' have existed, but for some reason can't remember details. The village elder is also acting weird. Hm, okay.
We investigate a nearby cave, looking for this route that the villagers seem to have forgotten. Kuon detects an illusion ward on one of the walls - someone's hiding something. Was anyone back at the village suspicious? Oh yeah, the village elder lady. We go back and talk to her, but not before Julion collapses, and the village elder cures her using the same magic as Setsuna, and the same sacred weapon to power her healing magic that only sacrifices should be able to use. Time for the game to plot dump her sad story - she was a sacrifice a long time ago, but she got wounded badly and her sister had to become a replacement sacrifice, charging through the sealed passageway and making it to land's end while her allies died holding off the monsters. She's feeling pretty guilty about living when she was supposed to have been the one to die, but after we give her a pep talk and insist we can handle the monsters that are sealed behind the ward, she gives us the key to break the seal and sends us on our merry way.
We head back to the cave to undo the ward, and find a surprise waiting for us inside - it's sickle dude! He's not attacking us this time, though...he's weak and seemingly wounded, leaning against a wall. Yomi insists we finish him off here, but Setsuna, ever the pacifist, once again puts herself in the way and says we should let him live. Her reason is that she's never felt like sickle dude was an enemy, he just attacked them emotionlessly, she thinks he's got to have some reason for it. And here we go, the player gets a choice to either finish him off or let Setsuna protect him. Paging Chrono Trigger. Actually, I'm not sure if you actually can finish him off - I chose to let him live, not sure if I could have actually killed him if I chose the option or if the game would have railroaded me into sparing him either way. We leave him be and continue on deeper into the cave.
I'll break this update here for now - I've gotta say, I'm a bit disappointed so far. The whole stuff with Yomi was just silly, and I couldn't feel sad for the other failed sacrifice's sob story either. The monsters gaining intelligence as time goes on thing has potential, though - if the sacrifice resets the monsters' intelligence, if the monsters get smarter the longer a sacrifice doesn't happen, there's story potential for a twist there. Also, our mysterious and mostly silent sickle dude has apparently been attacking not only Setsuna and our party, but monsters as well - he was the one who killed the bug kid's mom. He also seems to know Julion. Lots of plot hooks being set up. So despite this being underwhelming in a lot of ways so far, I'm keeping hope up that it will get better soon, because once we hit Land's End (and the game keeps telling me we're almost there!), I am expecting the rug to be pulled out from under us and the story to be flipped majorly. Looking forward to seeing that.
As far as gameplay goes, the game was very easy at first (except for those special 'supercharged normal enemy' optional battles) but it's finally beginning to get a bit challenging. Early on I made sure to switch to the harder battle mode - you can have 'Wait' mode or 'Active' mode. Both are actually forms of ATB, just in Active mode, the battle continues to proceed while you're rummaging through your spells menu. For whatever reason though, you can still 'pause' any time you like even in Active mode because time stops when you're targeting an ability, so while it's more difficult than Wait mode for sure, it's really just a matter of memorizing where your items and spells are located and selecting the one you want quickly, whereas in Wait mode you can take your time reminding yourself what spells you have.
"Psst, hey. Hey everyone, remember when JRPGs were good and we all loved them? Remember the 90s and all those great RPGs? Remember Chrono Trigger? Well, our game is going to be just like that! We're gonna take back the JRPGs of our youth!"
So, a little test - was the above a pitch for a really bad kickstarter project, or was it the marketing campaign from Square Enix's new 'Tokyo RPG Factory' sub-division for their first game?
You could be forgiven for thinking the former. Maybe I'm a little bitter - it's true that JRPGs as a genre are something that most people think fondly of in the past. Ask anyone to name their favorite JRPGs and you'll probably get a list of games from a long time ago for 99% of the answers.
So, Ikenie to Yuki no Setsuna. First of all, this title is way 2deep4u. Literally translated it's basically 'Setsuna of Sacrifice and Snow', with Setsuna being the name of the lead heroine, but it's also got a half-dozen other readings crammed into it. The director wanted the name 'Setsuna' to also make people think of 'Setsunasa', suffering and sadness, while 'Setsuna' also means 'moment', or 'juncture' and the game has a battle system mechanic based on that reading of the word. Snow, sacrifice, moment, juncture, suffering, sadness. Just go ahead and mash them up into a big word soup and you've got the general picture of what they were aiming for. I think they're still calling it 'Project Setsuna' in English right now, with an official title not yet decided. The game doesn't pretend to be a big-budget title, and is thankfully priced accordingly, retailing at about 2/3 the price of your average new PS4 game. So, does it live up to the hype or does it belong on the trash on top of a pile of broken dreams and failed RPGMaker projects? I guess I'll find out!
This game doesn't dump plot exposition on us, it lets us hop right into the action. One of the first things the game asks is if we want battle voices enabled or not, with the default option set to 'no'. Hey, Chrono Trigger didn't have any fancy shmancy voice acting! Well, I enabled it anyway. Our hero is a masked man from a clan of mercenaries. We enter a really snowy forest and meet up with another older member of our mercenary clan, who introduces himself as Kito and then lets us name our main character. I stuck with the default name, Endo (actually, this could be 'End' too, but who would name their kid 'End'? That would be like naming someone 'Edge Maverick', just not something people do. We'll stick with Endo for now). Anyway, we're mercenaries and we've been hired to rescue a girl in this forest. Actually, Endo's gonna do all the fighting of monsters and then Kito will escort the girl back to her father and we'll split the profits 50-50. I think Endo might need to learn how to negotiate better. No matter, we get some battle tutorials explaining the battle system (it is, indeed, just like Chrono Trigger with characters hopping into a combat field directly from the overhead view and attacking based on positioning and ATB gauges). A 'setsuna' (moment/juncture meaning this time) gauge fills up over time, it can fill from 0-3 levels and if it's level 1 or higher, you can do timed hits on your attacks and spells for added effect.
A few easy battles with small-fry later and we find and rescue the girl we were after. The older mercenary hands us 5000GP for our share of the reward and heads off with her, asking Endo how long he plans on staying a mercenary. It gave me the option of saying that I hadn't thought about it much, but instead I chose "Until I die" because that's really edgy and hardcore, just like our masked hero. Speaking of edgy, right after Kito takes off, a mysterious man appears behind Endo and offers him his next mission: Go to a certain secluded village on a small island off the mainland. Find a certain girl who will be turning 18 this year. Assassinate her. If Endo has any qualms about it, the player isn't told about them since it just fades to the next scene of him on a boat heading to that island.
We arrive at the village in question and learn a bit more about who this 'Setsuna' girl is. Every 10 years or so, a sacred ritual takes place where a sacrifice is chosen and escorted to a far-away land to be killed in order to suppress the growing ferocity of the land's monsters. Well, this game never did claim that it was trying to be original, did it? Anyway, Setsuna's not in the village, but the villagers give us some information. Setsuna's mom was one of the previous sacrifices and now she's one, too. It seems everyone here has a wife, daughter, aunt or someone who was a sacrifice at some point, lovely place to raise a daughter. Anyway, they point us in the right direction and we head off to where we suspect she is, out on the edge of the island at a stone monument located on the other side of a woodland full of more small-fry battles. Endo walks right up to her and readies his sword to strike her down while Setsuna calmly explains her role as the next sacrifice and how she's going to die at the end of her journey - not here, though! Her father and Setsuna's protective friend Kuon show up on the scene and double-team Endo, binding him with magic and knocking him out.
Endo wakes up in one of the villager's houses, still bound to the floor with magic. Turns out the villagers wanted to (quite understandably) execute him for attempting to assassinate Setsuna, but Setsuna herself was against it and insisted that Endo be let free. Still, they're not about to let him free until Setsuna and her escort (which at the moment, just seems to be her friend Kuon) safely leave the village. Kuon stops by to give us a stern talking-to about the whole 'trying to assassinate her dear friend' thing, she's a protective oddball with a temper who wears a frog-styled hoodie and fights with short-swords and magic.
Did I mention that this game is not trying to avoid cliches? I think I did. What do you know, at this very moment monsters rush in and attack the village, and every able fighting hand is needed to assist! Setsuna releases Endo's magic bonds and he rushes outside. Things are bad and Kuon is trying to hold the monsters off herself, so she reluctantly recruits Endo's help to dispatch them, with Setsuna joining in with her healing magic too near the end when the big boss monster swoops down. This is the first time we get to use dual attacks, Endo and Kuon have a dual attack just like the ones in Chrono Trigger where if they both have enough MP and their gauges are both filled, they can do a cross-slash for lots of damage. Nice. After we're done cleaning up, Kuon once again reminds Endo that he was planning on assassinating the sacrifice, which would be really, really bad news for the world, is he even aware of that? I had the option of doing the Cloud-like "whatever, not my business" tuff guy thing, but I think we need to tone down the edge a bit so I was nicer this time.
Setsuna has taken a liking to Endo for some reason, despite the whole "HE WAS ABOUT TO MURDER YOU" thing, and she asks the village elder to let Endo join her as part of her sacrificial guard, escorting her to the end lands where she'll be sacrificed. Since she'll die there, Endo's contract will still be fulfilled, it'll just take a bit longer. How about it? The village elder will give us some time to think about it until we talk to him and say "Yes" or "I need more time to think", but eventually "Yes". I love it when a game gives me choices. After a nice ritual where Setsuna says bye to everyone in town, including her dad and a guy with a crush on her, we set off to go kill Setsuna, but not before we bring her to the special place she needs to die at. For starters, we'll board a ship and find a town to gather some info. Wouldn't you know it, our ship gets boarded by monsters and even though we hold off the small fry, eventually a big sea dragon thing shows up and shipwrecks us. Bummer.
Endo washes up on shore alone, but luckily Setsuna and Kuon are only a few hundred meters away and we meet back up quickly after some field battles with more small-fry. Where to next? We've got a city in mind to make our way to, but we're not quite sure where we are, so let's just find some people for starters. We eventually wander to a deserted village - almost deserted, there's a tough looking man with a huge sword fighting a puny random encounter monster, but somehow he appears to be losing, to everyone surprise since someone who can wield a sword that huge shouldn't be having problems with small-fry like this. We help him out anyway, he introduces himself as Yomi. We'll soon find out that Yomi was a guard for one of the previous sacrifices. Auron, er, I mean, Yomi, points us in the right direction and we set off, landing at a small garrison headed by a buff warrior woman who is trying to train the inexperienced men here into a real self-defense force.
We ask for her permission to pass through a cavern that should get us to where we need to go, but she won't let us through because it's too dangerous. She insists that we take one of her men with us, but we fight her men and they're all wimps, not suitable for a sacrifice's guard duty. Maybe Yomi will help us? Setsuna wants to ask him, but he's nowhere to be found - the men around here talk about how he changed after he came back from his sacrifice guard duty, became weak and has never once returned to his hometown for some reason. Hmm. Anyway, the guard captain goes off on patrol and lets us relax in her home in the meantime, but she's taking long...too long. Soon another alarm is sounded, and we rush out to find that she's been gravely wounded. Yomi carried her back- apparently a man wielding a huge sickle attacked and it was all Yomi could do to escape with her. More bad news - the sickle guy is apparently targeting the sacrifice, Setsuna. Setsuna asks Yomi to join but he refuses and runs off - we're not about to give up that easily though, and our party sets off to go find Yomi and try to change his mind after we take care of cleanup in town.
So we've got a Chrono Trigger-like ATB system with timed hits, weapon and gem-socket upgrading, a cooking system, and some other things I haven't gotten the chance to explore yet. It's hard to say if it's good or bad yet, but I'll take it not being obviously bad already as a good sign and stay optimistic.
Well, 2015 is over (and I'm a month late writing this, but better late than never), so I thought I'd look back on the JRPGs I played in 2015.
Among the ones that I actually completed and put a review up for, my 2015 was Disgaea 5, Neptunia VII, Stella Glow, Fire Emblem Fates, Trillion: God of Destruction, Luminous Arc Infinity, Nights of Azure, 7th Dragon III, and Atelier Sophie.
The year started off pretty slow, but picked up with two major releases in Disgaea 5 and Neptune VII. These were two of the first PS4-only JRPGs (not THE first or anything, Omega Quintet for example, but pretty close), and it was nice to see games developed specifically for the PS4. Even by the end of the year, most Sony system games are still multiplat PS4/Vita/PS3. I love my PS3 and Vita and I feel for people who can't get a PS4 quite yet, but the selfish part of me hopes that more games in 2016 start being developed with PS4 in mind.
Next up was probably the most unexpected treat for me in 2015, Stella Glow. Despite the story being so cliche filled and cheesy, it hit all the right notes with me. It probably helps that I'm a huge Ar tonelico fan and love the whole song magic concept in the first place. There were a few (okay, a LOT of) places that they could have made the story a bit less dumb to push it over to 9/10 range, but I went in with low expectations so they were thoroughly exceeded.
Coming right up off the heels of Stella Glow I decided to marathon all three routes of Fire Emblem Fates. I was impressed by the gameplay and graphics for a 3DS game, and reminded of why FE is such a popular series since it's a big departure from the more common SRPG style (exemplified by games like FFT, LUCT, Disgaea, etc.). The story was completely retarded but at least the game was fun - a bit too much rehashing between routes and the 'pay us three times' thing was pretty slimy, though. Also, I hear there's a bunch of rumbling on the internet about how it's being censored in the west, that sucks. To be honest, I think I used the headpatting game that they're removing like twice and never touched it again - it was a silly thing, but I understand why people would be upset at having it removed, censorship is never a good option.
After FE was Trillion. This was a real risk of a game since new Compile Heart IPs have a big chance of being pretty awful, so again I was blessed with low expectations that helped me appreciate it more when it actually drew me in. I got really attached to the characters and despite the unsavory (and sometimes over the top) death scenes, it worked to get me to feel personally responsible for the characters that I failed to kill Trillion with. It's too bad the story fell apart so badly in the last 1/3 of the game or so, and that the true ending was so unsatisfying. The dungeon crawling also needed to be more fun, right now it straddles the line between 'JRPG' and 'character sim/VN' pretty closely, very light on what most people think of when they think JRPG gameplay.
After playing a shameless fanservice game that successfully tugged at my heartstrings anyway (Trillion), I moved into another shameless fanservice game with Luminous Arc Infinity, but this one just failed to pull me in at all. With too many characters, weird partial voice-acting that cut on and off mid-paragraph, and songs that were a letdown compared to Stella Glow, this one just didn't do much for me.
After what seemed like forever, Nights of Azure finally came out. Being the huge Gust fan I am, I went in with huge expectations and was a bit disappointed when I found out that even a scrub like me who is bad at ARPGs could beat most boss fights easily on the first try. It also had a largely unsatisfying story and budget constraints that prevented the island the game takes place on from feeling like a real place where people actually live. It sure was pretty though, handled well and the Colosseum is there for people who want a challenge, but come on Gust, try a little bit harder.
Heading back to my 3DS, I picked up 7th Dragon III Code:VFD. It was a lot of fun for what it was, which is a story-lite Etrian Odyssey type game with a lot of character customization. I feel like I'm repeating myself a lot, but too bad about the awful story. Still, a lot of fun, loved the game's style and music. The customization available was really impressive, and the attacks being animated instead of just being flashes on the screen like most DRPGs really set it apart.
The last 2015 game to be reviewed here was Atelier Sophie. Like I mentioned earlier, I go into Gust games with big expectations and Atelier Sophie sort of hit them. It didn't exceed them, but it wasn't a disappointment like Nights of Azure was, either. If they could have made Plachta's main storyline a bit more exciting then it probably would have gotten pushed up into 9+/10 territory, but it's still a fine entry in the series. I may pick it back up again to play it some more, since I heard they patched in a new fourth difficulty mode above Hard.
Overall, 2015 had a lot of good JRPGs, but one thing was missing: Among all the games I reviewed this year, I couldn't bring myself to give any of them a score of 9/10 or higher. My scoring is like American school grades, with (7.5) 75 being a C ("average"), 85 being a B ("good"), 87-89 being a B+ ("almost there, buddy"), but As reserved for games that really blow you away. I really want a game in 2016 to floor me and make me write up a 9.5/10 review, I hope something does.
The possibility always exists that I'm just getting old. I've been a crotchety old man complaining about how the stories for most of the games I played this year were awful, but honestly I have little room to complain when I buy anime-style JRPGs and get anime-style stories. I don't mind if a story is cliche or silly as long as it isn't completely awful, it's internally consistent, and it flows well. Yeah, that's really subjective, I know. Basically I just don't want the story punching me in the face with how bad it is and I'll be happy.
I started this site about 8 months ago as half-journal, half-review site and I'm really thankful to the people who take the time to read it. JRPG fandom is already a niche group, JRPG imports are an even more niche one, so even if this site only gets triple-digit visitors per day and most of them are probably web spiders and bots, I'm happy that there are some real people who follow it. Here's to a great 2016 for JRPGs.
It's been about a month and a half since I last updated, but I'm not dead! I do have to confess to a number of sins, though.
First, I'm not going to be putting up a review of Exist Archive. To be completely honest, I put it down around New Years' and didn't play it again for weeks. I tried to pick it back up yesterday and today and just couldn't. I'm dropping it, even though I'm only a few battles away from beating the game (for one of the endings, anyway).
Why? To put it as simple as possible, the game feels like a chore to me. I'm not having fun. The story and characters aren't that interesting to me. Normally I'd soldier on despite that, but to top it off, there are long loading screens and in order to truly 'finish' the game (and I like to really 'finish' any game I put a review up for), I'd need to play it through at least one more time in New Game+. I just can't do it. I just went ahead and watched the endings on youtube instead to give myself some closure. Since I'm just a hobbyist and not a paid professional reviewer, I have the luxury of just not finishing or reviewing a game if I'm not having fun anymore.
It's not really a matter of Exist Archive being a terrible game - if I was trying to be objective, I'd call it mediocre, not terrible. It certainly isn't worse than Luminous Arc Infinity, and I finished that. The game is very slow if you're not enjoying the dungeon crawling though - trawling through mazes to recover the existence crystals for a dozen characters is a real chore and prevents the main story from progressing much for a long time. Somehow it just rubs me the wrong way. I think I'm developing an allergy to anything starring a ragtag band of Japanese high school age kids (maybe that's why I skipped Tokyo Xanadu despite it looking like a good game, and why I have never gotten into the Persona series). It's not fair of me, I know. It's just my subjective taste. Two of the endings that I watched for Exist Archive were pretty nice, and one in particular would have been better with buildup of me actually playing the game to reach them. The postgame dungeon is also pretty funny.
So why not write up a review? Well, first of all, it would be hard for me to be fair to it. It really doesn't appeal to me personally, but I can see how it could appeal to some people. Second, I would want to get all four endings, clear the bonus dungeons, and see the skits for most characters before I reviewed it, in order to give it a comprehensive overview. That would probably mean another 20+ hours with the game and I just can't take it.
So for those of you who aren't allergic to Japanese high school boy protagonist settings and the like, I advise you to get it on PS4 at least so that the loading screens are less painful than the Vita version. It won't live up to Valkyrie Profile but maybe you'll have fun with it anyway if you like the characters.
My second sin to admit to is that in the time I was avoiding playing Exist Archive, I dulled the pain by playing a mobile game instead of finishing up Utawarerumono like I should have. In my defense I never paid a cent on it (no feeding the mobage beast), and I quit after a month when that, too, stopped being fun to me, but hopefully I can get back to Utawarerumono before the next batch of JRPGs come out.
2016 should be a great year for JRPGs. Starting things off up next will probably be Ikenie to Yuki no Setsuna (Feb.18 release) and Yuusha Shisu (Feb.25 release) to tide me over until Star Ocean 5 (end of March), so please look forward to more JRPG reviews in the future. Hopefully proper ones, this time!
Random JRPG blogging about the games I'm currently playing.