Took some time off blogging because my blog template broke for a couple days, that's what I get for being a lazy hack who uses templates in the first place, I guess. Anyway, I finished both Normal and True endings.
Arnas and Lulliytis' relationship really feels odd. Arnas clears out a nice spot of jayou so they can watch the night sky together, but something's just a bit off. Their relationship doesn't really feel like something that gradually builds up over the game, but rather Arnas acts pretty normal (and even complains with the old 'but we're both girls' when Lulliytis chases her out for changing at the beginning of the game), but then every now and then a very yuri-ish scene is thrown in, and then seemingly forgotten right after. It's kind of feels like someone wrote the story about Arnas versus the Lord of Night, and then an entirely different person decided to slap some yuri scenes into the middle at places. I love yuri, but this just sometimes doesn't flow quite right sometimes, it's too random and sudden, and gone as soon as the scene is over. I know that's vague, but it bothered me. There's too much whiplash.
Since the church can never seem to leave good enough alone, they send Arnas on another test. She's to deliver a special box that is said to be able to grant any wish to the person who opens it (but if you fail to open it, supposedly it might devour your soul). The person she's to deliver it to is another Holy Knight - this knight turns out to be Colin, the knight partner of the first Saint who is said to have fought the Lord of Night. By not opening the box Arnas passed the first test, and by beating down Colin (in a cutscene, pff) she passed the second test. Two tests isn't enough for poor Arnas though, not too long later, Lulliytis goes missing and we find out that it was Colin who kidnapped her. She reveals that the first Saint was actually betrothed to the Lord of Night and that she betrayed him. Then we have to fight Colin for real in-game, she transforms into a centaur-like appearance but she's a pushover like every other boss so far. As she's dying she tells us that she drank youma blood on that fateful day in the battle with the Lord of Night to gain power, but even that wasn't enough to save her Saint from her fate.
One upside among all this silliness are the side-quests from Lloyd and Alcard. I don't feel like going into great detail about them, but in many ways I enjoyed them more than the main story, since they went into more detail about the setting that this game takes place in. We'll eventually find out that the church basically had Arnas and Lulliytis become close so that they'd have two failsafe plans, either Arnas sacrifices herself for Lulliytis or vice-versa, either way the Night is sealed and the church wins. Anyway, we get word that the church found the real shrine this time, so it's off to the moment of fate. Arnas gets another call from her 'brother' in the church, and in a dramatic camera reveal, we see that it's the black cat talking on the other side of the phone, and he tells Arnas to make her own choice and that he's happy he could play the role of her 'brother'. The 'brother' being the cat (or at least using the cat) was pretty obvious from the start. This cat has been in constant communication with the Pope of the church, an extremely old and elderly woman who eventually dies and disappears from the scenes, talking to the cat like an old friend.
We make our way to the last altar - here's where the normal ending diverges from the true one. The normal end must be seen first, so we'll start with that - Lulliytis finally reveals what's in the lockbox she's been keeping in her room all this time. It's not the book that Alcard supposedly lost, it's the skull of the Pope who just recently died. She sets it on the altar and a staircase leads us up to the Ark where the fight with the Lord of Night is said to have taken place, frozen in time. When we get to the final room, the Pope is there waiting for us - the first Saint's will has been passed from Pope to Pope using those girls' energy from the earlier incidents every 10 years. She comes clean with the real story - what actually happened is that she got fed up with humans being dumb and having wars with each other for stupid reasons, and in order to stop that, she betrayed the King of the Youma, the Lord of Night, and stole the power of his blue blood. With the youma blood raining down and causing the catastrophe 800 years ago, wars between nations stopped and she was able to control and hold back humanity's murderous impulses as the incarnation of Night while still retaining a her humanity, or so she claims. So basically she's yet another "humans are dumb, I'll become God and make a perfect world" archetype.
Cue your typical JRPG protagonist speech from Arnas about how stealing peoples' free will is bad and people should walk their own paths in life, and the first actual somewhat challenging boss fight in the game. By 'somewhat challenging' I mean that I won on the second try, but that's better than the earlier ones who all keeled over on the first attempt I guess. As the Saint/Lord of Night dies, her Night essence jumps out and seeks a new owner, aiming for Arnas, but Lulliytis intercepts it and takes it in, collapsing as she starts turning into the new Lord of Night. What follows is possibly the most un-romantic kiss I've seen in a video game, with Arnas praying to the Lord of Night to take away Lulliytis' curse and take her instead, and then to erase Lulliytis' memory of her so that she'll be able to live without being sad from then on. It feels less like a kiss and more like CPR since Lulliytis is in extreme pain and succumbing to the power of the Night during it (and she's blue, gross). I think the yuri fans are going to be pretty pissed off that they managed to cram two overused tropes of the genre (one of the two has to die/go away, and forgetting about it all) into one scene. The credits roll, and post-credits set one year later, we see Simon, Lloyd and Alcarrd being bored at the inn, talking about how world peace came and all that good stuff, but Arnas and Lulliytis never returned, and how lonely it is. Cut to a scene of Arnas walking with the black cat, and the cat saying that this time he'll let the world off the hook for a bit in respect of Arnas and Lulliytis' feelings, but that nobody can deny him for long - because he is, dun dunnn, the Night! The end.
Pretty shitty, right? I thought so, at least. You can save your game data, and this time when you load it you can go into the True End route. Instead of going straight to the altar when they find it this time, Arnas goes back and looks into some more mysteries involving youma and humans who live or used to live on this island. These quests were pretty neat, we got to learn a lot about the history of this island and this world, how humans, half-youma, and full youma lived after the catastrophe, the troubles of having a youma for an adoptive parent, and more fun tales. There are two extra scenarios, and one of them (the first one) finally includes a challenging boss! Mistral is another pure-blooded youma and she's a real nightmare to fight - it took me 7 or 8 tries, the first real good challenge in this game's main story. Once Arnas calms her down and they make up for the bad introductions, it's off to our next 'extra' scenario.
The next scenario focuses heavily on Chris, I was happy to see her get more screen time because the normal main game explained barely anything about who or what she was. She sends requests to the hotel for Arnas to fulfill under an anonymous name, all helping her towards her eventual goal of collecting the full score sheets for a musical piece, which she then invites Arnas to come hear at the opera house. When Arnas arrives though, Chris attacks with enchanted music and the conductor boss from earlier's help. Unfortunately, Chris is yet another very easy to defeat boss, beat her first try without much difficulty, unlike Mistral. As Chris is dying, she explains a bit more about what happened - this island used to be a haven of the few people who turned into half-youma but retained their humanity, like Arnas. These half-youma and pure youma lived together in harmony until the church decided it was HERESY and burned the place down, slaughtering Chris' teacher and mentor along the way. Chris 'dies', but resurrects shortly after in front of Hotel Ende and Arnas, having lost some of her memories about what happened. She's a pure-blooded youma so she can't actually die, each time she gets done in like this she does lose some of her memories though. This was a nice quest, I want to hear and see more about the time period when half-humans and youma lived together on the island, that sounds like a more interesting setting than the one I'm playing in this game. Actually, I wanted to see more people on the island period - the quests keep telling me that people besides Arnas, Lulliytis, Lloyd, Alcard and Simon live here, but we never actually see any of them. I guess poor Gust just didn't have it in the budget to make 'average village dweller NPC' models.
Going back to the ending split point with the True End conditions fulfilled this time, everything is the same up until the post-credits. Instead of both Arnas and Lulliytis being missing, Lulliytis stumbles into Hotel Ende with amnesia, to everyone's shock. Later on she wanders into the same area we fought the first boss in, the first area where the cat (the real Lord of Night) lent Arnas his power, and Arnas suddenly appears and defeats the dragon. Lulliytis remembers who Arnas is and runs into her arms with a "Welcome back" and cut to ending. Okay, a little better than the normal ending I guess? I thought it'd be a bit more different in the parts before the post-credits, though. Oh well. Lastly, you can save your data again and if you load that, you get the ability to choose your ending based on Arnas' affection level with Lulliytis. There are 5 levels - 3 is the best 'normal' ending, the first one I described and the highest you can get on your first time. 4 is the 'True' ending. 5 is an extra non-canon ending - I thought maybe they'd throw some yuri fanservice in here, but instead it's just an ending where instead of Lulliytis intercepting the Night's power from the end boss, Arnas does instead and she becomes the new Lord of Night. She still erases Lulliytis' memories of her just like ending 3. I haven't watched endings 1 and 2, I assume they're even less satisfying than these endings since they're the 'worst' ones, maybe I'll get around to it one of these days.
I'm not really sure what to think of this game. I'm disappointed, but that's because I have extremely high expectations for Gust games. The gameplay was fun, but way too easy for 99% of the main story. Mistral is a challenge and the arena battles have some super-tough challenges in them, but it would have been nice to be challenged during the real, main game too more often. You can just brute force almost everything with Demon Form (and later, Nightmare Form), so even if the bosses might have some cool designs or attack patterns, it doesn't matter because you can just power through it. This game desperately needed some difficulty sliders, a Hard mode would have been great. The music was pretty good, as expected of a Gust game. The story...is a mixed bag, I guess. Arnas and Lulliytis' relationship was poorly done, I thought. I also thought the main story was kind of mediocre, but I liked the setting and I liked a lot of the side-quests (which sadly I didn't detail here) from Simon, Lloyd, Alcard and Chris that dealt more with the world and setting. I think I'll rate this as somewhere between a 7.8 and an 8.2/10, I need to roll it around in my head a bit more before throwing up a review in the next couple days.
The next game I play will probably be 7th Dragon III which releases in a week. In the meantime maybe I'll make a bit more progress in Utawarerumono: False Mask. Then it's just a matter of picking up some other games (lots of recent choices: Tokyo Xanadu, Moero Crystal, etc.) to fill time until Atelier Sophie. I really hope Gust delivers with Atelier Sophie, I'm gonna be pretty sad if that ends up being disappointing.
Random JRPG blogging about the games I'm currently playing.