Miitopia (Switch): Your Most Insane Fanfic Come to Life

If you’re reading this, then I’m a time masochist. When you’re working a full-time job along with running a blog, you don’t exactly have much time left. All of the precious recreational time I have is spent working on the blog. Every single piece of media I select must now serve some purpose for it. It’s hard. I’ve had to veto a lot of stuff. There are a lot of videogames that I’ve been juggling, and instead of playing them based on mood, I play them based on a number of factors too convoluted to go into right now. But a wrench was thrown in when Nintendo re-released the insane 3DS RPG, Miitopia, on Switch, with an improved character creator and FREAKING HORSES. I loved the crap out of the old one, but I was hesitant to play this new one ONLY because I never had raw desire take hold. So of course, this post (with an overly long preamble) is my only justification for playing Miitopia AGAIN. On Switch.

In Miitopia, the Dark Lord steals the faces from everyone in the titular kingdom of Miis. You, along with a vast number of intrepid heroes, set forth to whoop his butt and get everyone’s faces back. 

If you know RPG basics, then you know that this game has a simple and predictable plot. But unlike most RPGs, which pretend to be something they’re not, Miitopia spoofs them up. It is chock full of hilarious, tongue-and-cheek dialogue. The charm oozes out of every pixel, and we’ll get to more on that when we cover some of the gameplay elements.

I’d normally discuss the cast of the story here. However, every copy of Miitopia is kind of like a snowflake; no two are alike. This is because of the game’s main selling point: the Miis themselves. The identity of literally every character is decided by you. They can be your closest friends, or—if you’re like me and have no friends—fictional characters. You can be a light novel protagonist and insert yourself into the story, fighting alongside your favorite waifus. You can ship Arin and Dan from Game Grumps, or ship either of them with Markiplier and PewDeePie. You can even dictate the villain; take out your hatred on your most hated person by making them the Dark Lord. Hate mainstream culture? Then make the Dark Lord Billie Eilish. You also get other allies, like the Great Sage and the three Fairy Sisters. Just keep in mind that—SPOILER ALERT even though it’s a common RPG trope—whoever your Great Sage is will end up being the true final boss. If you didn’t have online in the original, you’d be given some lousy presets for non-plot-relevant characters. But in this version, you can freely dictate their identities as well, but you’d have to take the time to make them from scratch (or, you know, have an online subscription). Although the game doesn’t tell you this, you can preemptively add Miis—complete with makeup and wigs—from the Mii Characters database on the title screen. Use this if you have a plan on who to include in the story. Oh, and when it comes to your party members, you can change their in-battle phrases. 

For some reason, however, it doesn’t quite work in the Traveler’s Hub area. Every visit spawns a random, non-plot-relevant set of NPCs, and ideally, these would pull from Miitopia’s save data just like anyone else.  You can still go into the record menu and change that, but you’d have to do it every time the area reshuffles, and it kind of gets annoying. I’ve noticed that it has higher odds of pulling from the data if you have more characters with no assigned roles already made, but if that was the case, you’d have to make a LOT of Miis for it to pull from there every time.

Regardless, improvements to Miitopia’s customization mechanic are, well, massive. The Mii making system seems pretty normal at first. But when you go to the Mii Characters tab on the title screen, you can add makeup and wigs. With these, the sky’s the limit. You can make an anime character, and have it be accurate for once. Just a couple things to keep in mind. First of all, the sky isn’t quite the limit. For instance, there are no pompadours, nor any hairdos that defy gravity. More importantly, the quiz NPC doesn’t take makeup or wigs into account during the minigames. This means if you have an advanced character, like Darth Vader or something, it’s going to be tough to recognize him.

The icing on the cake is the amount of personality that oozes out of Miitopia. There are so many little charming details that make it hilarious and fun. One example is this derpy tuba-like jingle for literally EVERY new character as they show up. When the Dark Lord first appears, you hear this ominous choir, abruptly cut off by that sound, causing intentional tonal whiplash. Beyond that, there are too many examples to list, like the occasional Psycho bit after character interactions or the fact that every ability has this fancy, anime-like cinematic for it when it’s used for the first time.

The personality is also present in the game’s visual and audio presentation. Miitopia has a quirky and cartoony vibe, which is basic yet appealing. The Switch’s superior power adds lighting effects that help give it a more whimsical vibe. The soundtrack is also surprisingly fantastic. The battle theme and the titlescreen music are unique to each area in the game, and the boss track is a real bop that still lives in my head rent-free.

Although combat would be an afterthought in a game like this, Miitopia manages to have legitimately fun combat. The battles are your basic JRPG turn-based formula, but there are a number of factors to add spice (and chaos) to this formula. First off, you get to choose everyone’s personality quirk. They all have advantages and disadvantages, that range from free evades to refusing a much-needed heal. They trigger randomly, and as a result, a lot of battles end up being luck-based to an extent. The game is balanced enough around this fact… well… to a point (we’ll discuss that later).

A much more important factor is Affinity. Characters can build relationships through various, self-explanatory methods, from battle, to being roomies at the inn, as well as other means. Levelling Affinities up can cause some powerful effects to happen, some of which can turn the tide of battle in your favor. Of course, these are also luck-based, but they feel awesome when they happen. However, random events, as well as certain moves and personality traits, can cause a rift in two characters’ relationship. When this happens, you need to keep them together until they make up, or use the Popstar’s insanely powerful skill that instantly resolves their argument (this doesn’t work if the Popstar is involved in said rift; something that happened to me way too often in my playthrough).

Exploration in Miitopia is divided into automated traveling courses. If a path splits off, you get to dictate where they go, and you’ll need to take EVERY PATH if you want to get everything. It can get repetitive, but using the ZR button speeds up gameplay and saves BUTTLOADS of time. It even works in cutscenes! Random events occur, from stumbling upon loot to characters suddenly being fed up with each other. It’s generally rare for these events to lead to an unfair game over, but it can happen in VERY specific circumstances.

In between each course, the party rests up at the Inn. Unlike most JRPGs, this is where the action occurs. Here, you arrange characters’ living spaces so that they can bond with one another. While in the Inn, you can feed characters food obtained throughout the adventure to permanently increase their stats. They have very random tastes, and more often than not, they will hate the food most tailored to their build. You can also gamble any Arcade Tickets found from adventuring to get money or items. I always did the latter, since you will always get something from the item roulette. These range from a random equippable item, to rare food, to a boost of XP or Affinity between two people. Spending money is another mechanic based on luck. You need to see if a character wants something, and give them the money to grab it. Equipment for characters come in tiers, which means that if a chest contains equipment, it will always be the next step up from whatever you have. Oh, and keep in mind that characters will sometimes fail to buy the equipment that you loaned them the cash to buy. New to the Switch version are Outings. These are fun little events that give sizeable Affinity boosts and are quite charming as well as varied. Also new to the Switch version is the Horse. This adorable, customizable companion is basically a fifth party member. By raising Affinity between your Horse and other characters, you can trigger new, unique assists in battle. These are insanely helpful! One of them is basically an ultimate move. It requires all MP, and has a unique effect depending on the class of whoever uses it. However, there’s one unwritten nuance that I learned the hard way: the horse will only assist as long as a character is in the stable with it, regardless of Affinity and if it accompanies you to battle.

Well, I ended up deviating from battle for a while. Anyway, though the amount of luck in this game appears daunting, Miitopia does allow some divine intervention. Sprinkles can be used to restore HP, MP, to revive a party member, and more. Your carrying capacity with these Sprinkles increases as you defeat enemies, but keep in mind that they don’t refill until after a course is done. There is also the Safe Spot, where one character can use their turn to rest and heal a percentage of HP and MP as well as cure any debuffs. Of course, this puts your party at three, so careful planning is needed.

I talked about pretty much every element in battle before the bread and butter of RPGs: classes! You can assign a class to each new party member, and after a certain point in the story, can freely change said class. They range from your usual Mage and Cleric, to the unusual Popstar, Chef, Cat, Flower, etc. For the most part, they all have good enough strengths to win no matter what. The exception is the Tank. I don’t mean the high-aggro defensive class; I mean a literal Tank. This class has high defense and high damage, but most of the latter are used at the detriment of the Tank’s Affinity. Its low base MP doesn’t help either. 

In terms of difficulty, Miitopia is surprisingly balanced. Like with any JRPG, you’ll be pretty frail at the beginning, but be relatively okay at taking control as the game goes on. Bosses, and this one type of enemy with an insta-kill attack, are pretty much the only real challenges in the main story. Unfortunately, Miitopia is one of those annoying games where three party members are A.I. despite the fact that this is a turn-based RPG and that A.I. shouldn’t be necessary. They don’t spam useless moves like Marin Karin, at least. In fact, the A.I. is pretty good at making choices that a real gamer would make. Unfortunately, the A.I. fails to take turn order into account, and will use HP Bananas even if a healer was going to go immediately after them.

The real difficulty is in the post-game. In addition to new and tougher quests, the post-game unlocks three secret areas, two of which have the secret Vampire and Elf classes (for all I know, there could be a third one because I still have yet to do everything in this game). I usually like to make new party members dedicated to these, but keep in mind that they’ll have a whole game’s worth of Affinity, equipment buying, and permanent stat building to catch up to!

The third and most involved post-game area is a massive city, split into EIGHT sectors, teeming with the most powerful mobs in the game. Each sector has a stronger version of a previous boss, all of which HURT. This place sucks, and is probably the one place where Miitopia’s chaoticness loses its novelty. It’s hard enough on its own, but when you have to worry about relationships failing, or a Stubborn character refusing to be healed, it becomes beyond irritating. And don’t get me started on the U.F.O. enemies! They can use an attack that steals all of a character’s HP Bananas, which cannot be evaded no matter what. You also don’t get the Bananas back when defeating them. This causes your coffers to be sucked DRY,  to the point where you can’t organically regain them within the game’s parameters as long as you proceed through that area; you actually need to grind for them. I can’t even imagine how it feels when you get to the end of the boss rush tower, just for a few, RNG-based boo-boos to kick in and cost the whole run. And according to the Medal list, there’s a second tower that I actually have never seen before. Who knows what that could be!

The post-game has one more nice unlock: the villa. With this, you can house a massive number of party members all at once, and freely create new ones. This helps alleviate the issue of there being more classes than party members in the main story. Unfortunately, the inn capacity doesn’t account for the addition of the horse stable, meaning that one person will always be alone if you want to build Affinity with the horse.

Oh, and one warning for true completionists: the Medals. These are in-game achievements, and the Traveler’s Hub guy tracks your progress with them. Getting all of these requires getting every class to the max level of fifty, maxing out Affinities, getting all of the different equipment items for every class, and more. This is where grinding becomes a must, and that kind of sucks. But to be honest, you’ll probably need to do it anyway to take on the aforementioned boss rush. I have never completed Miitopia, but I might make an attempt if I ever feel the need to veg out with something mindless. But if you undertake this task, do it with some music or Twitch streams in the background.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 8.75/10

An already great game is better than ever on the Switch! Miitopia is a quirky, fun adventure, perfect for relieving stress (as long as you don’t try the really BS stuff). I recommend it to anyone who just wants to be happy.

New Pokémon Snap: The Dark Souls of Casual Gaming (Either that or I just suck at it)

I was a kid when the N64 came out. That puts my parents in their early twenties when the home videogame revolution occurred. Unfortunately, they were the only people who didn’t buy into it, which would cause me to miss those classic console generations and become a Gamecube kid. And while that can definitely be considered a badge of honor, it does pain me to say that I did miss a lot of great N64 games… such as Pokémon Snap. I watched several playthroughs of it on YouTube, and it looked super fun (albeit a bit on the short side). I wouldn’t get to experience that BS grading system that had nothing to do with actual rules of composition or being told that “I was close” until New Pokémon Snap came out on Nintendo Switch. I paid good money for this thing. Let’s hope it’s at least more than three hours long.

In New Pokémon Snap, you are transferred to the pun-tastic facility known as the Laboratory of Ecology and Nature Sciences (i.e. L.E.N.S.) to study Pokémon. Under the guide of Professor Mirror (not named after a tree for once), you take pictures of the critters for science. Oh, and some of them are shiny I guess.

People hated Gen 8 for how it looked (among other things), but New Pokémon Snap ends up being a big step above… Okay, that isn’t saying much. The characters look kind of plastic, but the game still has that pleasant, cartoony feel of the Pokémon world in general. The night time segments are where it excels in terms of visuals; gotta love stylized particle effects!

This is both a photography game, and a Pokémon game that isn’t Gen 5, so it goes without saying that there really isn’t a plot. The whole thing is following the old journal of some guy named Vince to discover the Illumina phenomenon. This glow makes Pokémon shiny, but sadly, it’s not the shiny that series veterans think of. In any case, that’s literally the whole story.

The characters are also as lacking as you can expect. This game is meant to be very serene and cut off from the criminal organizations, questionable ethics, min-maxxing, and awful law enforcement of the main games, so no one can be over-the-top. And as a result, they are as flat as anyone who isn’t Gladion, and also lack the great character design that Pokémon people tend to have. The only one who stands out is Todd, and that’s only under the assumption that he’s the original game’s protagonist. 

In terms of gameplay, New Pokémon Snap will feel very familiar to experienced players of the original. You move along on an automated path and take photos. You also have the help of returning tools such as the apples, and a Poké Flute equivalent that sounds way more annoying this time around.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a long-overdue sequel without some (i.e. a lot of) new features. First off, you can scan stuff now. This helps you find things as well as elicit reactions from nearby Pokémon. Pester Balls are replaced with Illumina Orbs. This can put Pokémon into an Illumina state, allowing for new behaviors. Also, hitting special flowers will trigger a widespread Illumina effect that often results in something ideal for your endeavors. The catch is that each region has its own variant, and you’ll have to earn them as you progress.

There’s also the research level. Courses, most of which are divided into day and night variants, have their own XP bars. Fill it up by discovering varied Pokémon behavior (and getting good scores), and upon levelling it up, the Pokémon on that course will change, allowing for even more variety. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year,” said Randy Quaid. Movie references aside, this mechanic really helps bring areas to life in a way that wasn’t possible in the original. 

The big thing that gives New Pokémon Snap its replay value is the way completing the Photodex works. Each photo of a Pokémon has a ranking system that ranges from bronze to platinum. As expected of a game where a machine judges art… yeah, good luck. However, there’s more than just getting a good photo of a Pokémon. As I said earlier with research level, Pokémon exhibit different behaviors. In fact, each Pokémon has FOUR states that it can be photographed in, each of which has its own ranking system. The completionist run requires every photograph of every Pokémon in every state with a platinum rating. Like I said, good luck.

Since machines aren’t sentient enough to have an eye for art, photo evaluation is the same “get the Pokémon in the center of the frame” BS as it always was. If you’re used to the ever-picky Professor Oak, then it’ll feel like second nature. However, Mirror doesn’t straight-up shit on you like Oak does. Whether or not that’s a disappointment is your prerogative. In any case, it’s also about as buggy as it was before; for every shot that should be awful, you get platinum, and a bronze for every shot that appears to more-than-adequately meet the game’s parameters (okay, to be honest, it’s not like that ALL the time but it’s noticeable).

When it comes to finding the four poses,  they’re mostly fun to figure out. These states can be triggered through your various tools, or by just having good reflexes. The problem with this system is the fact that you can only submit one photo of a Pokémon at a time. This sucks, since it’s more than likely you’ll have photos of Pokémon in more than one pose in a single run. This issue is most evident when in the special Illumina Pokémon stages. These are like Rainbow Cloud from the original; just you and a glowing Pokémon that you gotta go to town on. Although more Pokémon show up when replaying these stages, the bulk of their time is taken by the Illumina Pokémon. As such, it’s more than possible to get two, three, or possibly all four poses in a single run (and they’re generally not easy shots to get either). But because you can only do one at a time at the end… yeah. I can just imagine Professor Mirror saying, “Wow, you captured this one Pokémon in a wide variety of behaviors all at once!” as he heartlessly shreds all but one of those photos you poured your blood, sweat, and tears into. And to be logic police for a second, this system is not at all efficient to doing ecology research. 

At the very least, you won’t be thrown in like cold turkey when it comes to figuring out the different poses of Pokémon; characters often provide photo requests that clue you in on what to do. However, a lot of these requests SUCK, and can make the game a hellscape if you’re going for completion. They range from pretty intuitive to Famicom-levels of obtuse, and at the time of posting this, I sure as hell didn’t get them all! And even if you know what to do, execution ends up being the hard part. While you can retry a stage anytime, there are actually slight variations within a given stage that are completely random, even if you didn’t increase the Research Level (looking at you, Elsewhere Forest). As a result, many of your retries can end up being just for the opportunity to take that photo (on top of having to set everything up for said photo). Oh, and if you end up preemptively taking a photo for a request before it comes up, then you’ll have to take it again, and waste the chance to submit a new pose from that run. And if you DO complete the request, you gotta manually turn it in!

One issue I will acknowledge that puts this game beneath the original is how progression is done. With exactly one exception at the butt end of the game, it’s all tied to raising the research level, as opposed to being observant and solving a puzzle in a given stage with intuition and timing. You don’t have to do any of the BS to raise it up to adequate levels, but it nonetheless doesn’t feel as accomplishing.

Beyond that, this game is just plain brutal at times. While it’s arguable whether or not any challenge in New Pokémon Snap is as hard as getting the 10k Mew shot in the original, a lot of this stuff really piles up, and the cumulative difficulty surpasses that of the Mew fight. Oftentimes, you’ll have to make ridiculously precise throws, sometimes at moving targets from within your also-moving vehicle, in very short windows of time. There are also a number of occasions where you have to kite Pokémon with apples for obnoxiously long periods of time. The problem with this last example is that Pokémon aren’t as responsive to apples as before, making it a real pain to maintain their attention. And if you mess up once, they go back to their starting point.

Let’s stop talking about the problems with the game and discuss some nice positives. One big help is that it gives you a visual indication of what is considered the subject of your next shot. Plus, you can take pictures while not zoomed in, as well as throw items while zoomed in. Most notably, photos are put into individual folders during evaluation, making it a lot less messy when choosing what to show to Mirror.

And need I mention the phenomenal photo customization? Every photo registered in the Photodex—as well as ones saved in your album—can be edited in some way. You can give them funny captions that are a lot better than the in-game ones, for starters. There is also the ability to re-snap a photo taken with the ability to modify angle and color balance settings (although this is only available at the end of a given run). The fun part is plopping stickers and effects onto your photos to make them hilarious. You get more and more stickers as you accomplish stuff, and it’s actually worth trying to knock out requests since they have a lot of the better stickers.

Before getting to the final evaluation, I should point out that New Pokémon Snap does have a bit of a post-game. You unlock the challenge score system from the original’s post-game (assuming you even care about it), as well as the Burst Mode setting for your camera that allows you to capture photos at rapid speed. Most notably, you unlock a beautiful new stage… that would’ve been spoiled to you if you happened to look at the Nintendo eShop pics for this game. It also spawns some Legendary Pokémon in earlier stages, if you want even more headaches. 

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 8.95/10

It has more depth, better replay value, a great photo customization system, and a wider variety of Pokémon. Yet… for some completely arbitrary reason, it completely lacks the heart, personality, charm, and [insert other esoteric thing here] that the N64 Pokémon Snap had. …Look, I’m kidding, okay?! I think New Pokémon Snap was well worth the wait, and has more than enough positive qualities to outclass its predecessor. Just… for the love of Arceus… attempt to 100% it at your own risk!

Bravely Default II: It’s… a Game

I was curious about Bravely Default ever since it came out. However, by the time I wanted to bite the bullet and try it, new copies somehow shot up to the triple digits, even before the death of the 3DS. I had also heard that the game ends on a whimper and that it had… microtransactions? Yeah, no thanks. Instead, I ended up jumping into the Bravely series with Bravely Default II for the Nintendo Switch.

In Bravely Default II, a young man is shipwrecked… somewhere. He runs into some lady named Gloria who is on a mission to find the four elemental Crystals (traditional MacGuffins). With the help of two other people, named Elvis and Adelle, he ends up helping Gloria find the MacGuffins. And yeah, that’s it.

Before covering the story, I need to lay down some groundwork. The game allows you to name the main protagonist, which is fun. Also, Bravely Default II has the option to play with the Japanese voice acting, like with most JRPGs these days. But for some reason, either variety or self-deprecation, I decided to play the whole game with the dub. Keep in mind that the dub might color my impression of the story and characters.

I’m not a big fan of Final Fantasy or Octopath Traveler’s plots, but at least they tried. Bravely Default II feels so half-assed it comes off as intentional. The story is so generic to the point of… nothingness. At least Dragon Quest has different dialects to give it more charm. I tried my darndest to give the writing a chance, but it didn’t take me long to start mashing A during cutscenes. Other times, I’d actually watch Twitch or YouTube while playing through; I was THAT uninvested in the story.

The game is also rather silly when it comes to chapter cutoff points. Normally, when you beat the boss of the current chapter, it starts the next one in the following cutscene. However, that’s not the case here. Instead, you have to be well on your way to the next town, and then randomly, the next chapter will start. And as you can expect, this will open up new quests in previous towns. As someone who prioritizes sidequesting, this really bothers me! Why couldn’t they have just ended the chapters right after the major boss fights like normal people?!

And to rub salt in the wound, the game has  next to no sense of accomplishment. You collect these MacGuffins that are messing up the various regions of the game, but it doesn’t fix anything. I know it’s really rare for a JRPG to allow you to explore the world after you’ve saved it, but Bravely Default II straight-up doesn’t care. For example, when you collect the Water MacGuffin flooding the one town, said town does not revert back to normal. Even having it gradually revert back as you advance through the game would be nice, but nope!

As far as the voice acting is concerned… Eh. I feel like the voices do fit the characters, but the performances themselves are inconsistent. When they’re being normal, it’s alright. However, a lot of the attempts at being emotional are about as effective as the one notorious instance of bad acting in the 1952 adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Of course, because I hate myself, I kept the dub on for the whole game. The only lines I enjoyed were some of the in-battle commentaries (like Adelle saying “What the?! You suck!” when inflicted with a debuff), but like any JRPG with in-battle commentaries (hi, Xenoblade), they got very grating. 

The characters are… meh. It’s not like there isn’t character development, but it is very bare-bones basic. There’s nothing that completely changes how I view a character, compared to—say—Sanji’s backstory in One Piece (the FULL backstory to be exact). The only remotely likeable character is Elvis, and that’s simply because it’s really hard to not like anyone with his dialect.

So, the gameplay. Since this is my first Bravely game, I have no idea what mechanics carry over from Bravely Default and what mechanics are new. As such, I’ll just explain everything! Hooray!

If you’ve played Final Fantasy and/or Octopath Traveler, a lot of mechanics will be super familiar. The stats are more-or-less self-explanatory. However, I must point out two outliers in the stats. For starters, aggro is a base stat that all characters have. Naturally, you want it to be higher on tanky people. There’s also a weight stat. All equipment increases weight, and if it goes over the maximum capacity, their base stats decrease even if the actual equipment is better than what they have.

In terms of combat, stuff if pretty self-explanatory. It plays more like classic Final Fantasy than anything else. You can toggle between single-targeting and multi-targeting for magic. Also, you can freely target enemies or allies with a move. Obviously, this means that zombies’ weakness to healing spells is accounted for. Enemies also have the annoying ability to counterattack, but thankfully, the game specifies if their attack is a counter. However, you’re going to want to have a plan to deal with counterattacks FAST. Eventually, it gets to the point where enemies—specifically bosses—will counter literally everything, and it’s obnoxious.

There are some new things, and by new, I mean things that were probably introduced in Bravely Default but since this is my first Bravely game it’s new to me. This game has BP, which sounds similar to the mechanic from Octopath Traveler. It’s not even remotely similar. Up to 3 BP can be used, sure, but instead of boosting one move, it adds multiple actions to a single turn. As much as I love the boosting in Octopath Traveler, this use of BP has a lot more utility; you can heal and then immediately attack an enemy, for instance.

The catch is that BP is not used in the same way as Octopath. Keeping in with the game’s title, every character has a Brave and Default action. Brave is what consumes BP, and Default is a defensive stance that gains BP. You more-or-less have to just spam Default, which can make battles kind of slow, especially early game. However, you don’t actually NEED BP in order to use Brave. You can go into the negatives with BP if you really want to. The risk is that the character will lose as many turns as they are in the negatives, and must wait until BP goes back to 0. To make things scarier, enemies can use Brave and Default, but are thankfully subject to the same penalties.

If there’s anything I don’t like about combat, it’s how stat modifiers work. Like in any good JRPG, stat buffs and debuffs can be stacked. The game makes sure to specifically tell you the maximum stacking effect, which is nice. But the problem is… it takes forever, and it feels like they don’t last long at all. Reusing the same buff does not add to the duration like in Octopath Traveler, so you have to constantly be watching for the visual indicator that the buffs are about to expire.

Although you only get four characters, jobs more than make up for it. The system works pretty much like it does in any JRPG with jobs. You have a main job and a sub-job. The important thing to know is that sub-jobs do not level-up in battle. What you’re encouraged to do is max-out a job, then make it a sub-job, since you’ll have all the abilities of that job no matter what. Every job has a passive skill that can be set to an ability list, even if you aren’t that job. The game straight-up recommends that you prioritize Freelancer, and use its JP-boosting skills to level up subsequent jobs.

Special moves are also different than in Octopath. Unlike in that game, where you learn the special after completely mastering the job, Bravely Default II‘s system has it to where each MacGuffin has to bless a character, allowing them to use the special of whatever job they have. The conditions to using a special are not by consuming 3 BP, but by using specific commands a LOT. They provide buffs to the entire party, but instead of lasting for a fixed number of turns, they expire in real time when the special theme that plays after using the move ends. These buffs aren’t helpful until more characters are blessed, in which case you can immediately use another special when the first one is about to end, to carry over the current buff along with the new one.

One problem I have with the jobs is that a number of them are… bad… ish. The Beastmaster, like Octopath Traveler, is capable of being really powerful, but I hate it. Just like in Octopath, you can capture weakened monsters to use in battle. Unlike Octopath, where you have a limited stock of monsters and a fixed amount of usages for them, Bravely Default II gives you unlimited stock, but only one use per monster. As such, you pretty much have to grind captures. It’s a pain to do, however. While you are able to see the monsters’ HP (unlike Octopath), your odds of capturing are pretty much impossible unless they have exactly one HP (which is easy to deal with thanks to the Mercy Strike move but it’s still annoying). Also, there are rare unique monsters that can be captured, and like Octopath, capturing them sucks. In fact, I couldn’t capture a single one of them! Since they’re rare, you probably would never use them, even when fighting the final boss. In the end, capturing monsters IS well worth it, for many bosses would’ve walled me if I hadn’t.

There are a few subtle distinctions that make this game different from classic Final Fantasy. For starters, gravity magic is real nasty because it does a fixed percentage of your MAX HP as opposed to your current HP. However, the most important distinction is weapons with special effects. For example, the staff that casts Cure is in this game, but unlike the classic games, where its attack is changed to Cure, you actually need to use it as an item to cast Cure in this game. This change does give these weapons more utility, but it would be nice if the game’s eighty thousand hints included one about that mechanic.

Just in case you didn’t want to finish the game in under a hundred hours, the protagonist has the ability to explore the seven seas on his own. To put it bluntly, this game has one of those “send characters off to do something then come back the next day for goodies” things. The thing about this mechanic is that it only works with the Switch in sleep mode while the game is running, meaning that you’ll be increasing playtime by a LOT. It’s a good mechanic if you have a full-time job that isn’t gaming; you can boot up Bravely Default II, have him shove off, and reap the rewards after work.

They also have a new Triple Triad: B ‘n’ D. It’s a simple yet insanely complex card game about occupying territories. I have accumulated many losses (since I suck at tabletop ANYTHING, even a fake tabletop anything). But in the end, it’s worth doing (even if it will gouge out your eyes). There is a “No Keepsies” rule that you can use so that you don’t lose cards when you are defeated, but you can’t dictate the rules until you obtain one of each card the opponent has. If there’s someone you really don’t want to fight multiple times, fight someone you can change the rules with to get extra card points, and then take all of the tougher opponent’s cards in one fell swoop after beating them once. As is Triple Triad tradition, make sure you save scum before a tough match!

As much as I loved Octopath Traveler visually and audio-ly, Bravely Default II disappoints by comparison. While the towns are created in beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds (which you can actually tell where to go since it’s not a PS1 game), the overworld is about as bare-bones as the story. There’s next-to-no variety in terms of landmarks and geography, plus dungeons tend to be very easy to get lost in. The soundtrack is one of the more forgettable I’ve heard in a JRPG. In fact, most of the songs are all remixes of a basic theme depending on the region.

In terms of difficulty, Bravely Default II is just like any JRPG, at least on Normal Mode; early game is rough because of a lack of options, then it steadily gets easier as you get more powerful. Also similar to the genre, most regular mobs won’t be that troublesome (as long as you don’t have too many jobs that clash with each other), but bosses can rough you up, even if the game considers you overleveled. There are superbosses on the world map, and those are what you’d expect them to be.

I was already over ninety hours by the time I beat this game, but guess what—it has a post-game. However, it’s not just a post-game, it’s the true endgame. Beating the “final boss” gives you a lousy ending, and reloading the save will grant the cast a premonition of that ending, triggering an entirely new chapter. There’s new quests and story beats, as well as the true final boss and ending. The big addition is the ability to go into portals where you fight past bosses to be able to raise corresponding Jobs three additional levels. They’re worth doing, but they SUCK. The past bosses attack in groups of several at a time, and all gain 1 BP as a counterattack for literally EVERY action. Even if you could use a move to reduce their BP, that move could in itself trigger the counterattack.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 7.35/10

Bravely Default II is a solid JRPG which harkens back to the good old days. But to be honest, I wasn’t entirely fond of it. I think Octopath Traveller—by comparison—would be a far better game if it weren’t for the invisible encounters and the tedium that comes with its Hunter job. Heck, part of me thinks Octopath is irrefutably better DESPITE those flaws. Double heck, I like DQXI better than this. I dunno, this could be the fact that I maranthoned Bravely Default II talking, but the game feels kind of just… there. To tell the truth, I didn’t even bother finishing the post-game content. I recommend Bravely Default II if you’re a diehard JRPG fan who doesn’t have a full-time job outside of gaming.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps: A Beautiful, Death-Trap-Infested Game

I never played Ori and the Blind Forest, but I did watch Josh Jepson and ProtonJon play through it, hence my interest in the sequel: Ori and the Will of the Wisps. I needed a metroidvania to keep my mind off of the upcoming Ender Lillies. So yeah, that’s why I decided to buy this (also the fact that Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin had been murdering me at the time).

Ori and the Will of the Wisps picks up right where the first game left off. Ori and the gang watch over the bird egg that was left behind until it hatches into a baby crow named Ku. After much trial and error, Ori helps Ku learn to fly. And while flying, they happen upon some island that seems to be in a BIT of a bind.

Will of the Wisps is nowhere near the emotional gut punch that Blind Forest was. While the opening sequence is startlingly similar, the only emotional aspect is “Oh no our burb couldn’t fly” versus “Holy crap my mother just DIED”. There is a part at around the one-third point that is utter tonal whiplash. And five minutes after that, it’s like “OKAY BACK TO VIDEOGAME AGAIN”. We get to find out the identity of the super-deep narrator in this game, which is pretty cool. Other than that, it’s pretty typical videogame stuff.

The game has a LOT of character, thanks to how it presents itself. The hand-painted-like visuals and orchestral soundtrack give Will of the Wisps the same whimsical feel as the previous game. While none of the individual tracks really stood out to me, they do a good job dynamically changing as you go through a given area. The Switch version does have some loading issues if you move too fast (fortunately it doesn’t happen when speed matters), and takes over a minute to boot-up. But hey, at least it’s not Sonic 06.

If you’re wondering if you need to play Blind Forest in order to enjoy Will of the Wisps, don’t worry; the gameplay has changed a LOT. While Ori still gets his usual mobility options, combat is completely reimagined. Ori doesn’t have his Jiminy Cricket friend from last time, so instead, he gets a SWORD. Ori’s sword has great range, and moves fast; like the optimal melee setup in Hollow Knight but without the needed charms. This attack, along with many other abilities, need to be assigned to Y, X, and A. You find a lot of abilities, by either interacting with trees or straight-up buying them. Because of this, combat has a lot more depth than the previous game. Plus, your attacks pack a real wallop, which can stun enemies or send them flying. Uniquely enough, you can un-assign your standard attack if you so choose. But in any case, you can re-assign your moves instantly at any time, so it’s not that big of a deal.

But that’s not all! There’s also spirit shards. These are basically charms from Hollow Knight, but they all take the same amount of slots. They have perks, from being able to stick to climbable walls, to having applications in combat. Some of them can be upgraded, and it’s definitely worth doing (even if they cost more than a pretty penny). 

As far as being a metroidvania is concerned, Will of the Wisps does a great job. I still have doubts that any metroidvania could beat Hollow Knight in terms of exploration, but I had a great deal of fun running around this new world. The map marks off most points of interests for you, but if you want to know where everything is, you’ll have to pay the map guy. There is also a lot more to do compared to Blind Forest. In addition to the Life Cells, Energy Cells, and secret pockets of cash scattered about, you have to worry about fun combat shrines, less fun speedrunning challenges, and hidden spirits shards. You also have Wellspring Glades, the dedicated hub area. To spruce this place up, you need to find Gorlek Ore to fund various projects, and seeds to plant to allow access to other parts of town.

If you aren’t too familiar with Blind Forest, then you might be wondering what exactly makes Ori stand out from the other nine hundred ninety-nine metroidvanias out there. Pretty early on in the Ori games, you obtain the bash ability. At the push of a button, this move allows you to grab hanging lamps, enemy projectiles, and enemies themselves to literally yeet Ori in any direction of your choosing. You can use this to redirect projectiles back at the enemies, but more often than not, you use this for some straight-up ridiculous platforming. Will of the Wisps gets more insane when you obtain the new grapple ability. This thing has obscene range, able to grapple to targets practically offscreen. However, it’s a lot touchier compared to bash because this one doesn’t let you change the angle that Ori is launched in.

These crazy movement abilities allow the Ori games to have some really cinematic chase sequences. They were pulse-pounding in Blind Forest, and the ones in Will of the Wisps are no slouch. But as fun as they are, there are tons of chances for instant death. If you’re going for the no-death challenge, then… prepare to hate these sections of the game.

Blind Forest was notoriously difficult. By comparison, however, Will of the Wisps is significantly easier. The wider range of combat options make most enemies a joke, even with a shard that greatly increases their stats in exchange for more money. It is still easy to die, but the incredibly generous checkpoints kind of encourage more reckless play. The chase sequences are also a lot shorter and easier this time around. I haven’t played the game on hard mode, since it—you know—would require another playthrough, and I don’t exactly have the luxury to replay a game, but I imagine that veterans will want that mode right out of the gate.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 8.75/10 

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a great metroidvania that’s much better than its predecessor. I recommend it if you like Ori and this type of game in general.

Dragon Quest Builders 2: The Best Minecraft Clone

It might seem like I was pretty level-headed during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, but if you knew me in my personal life, you’d see that I was anything BUT that. I had literal panic attacks on a weekly basis, and in the aftermath, I’m now having to be practically held at gunpoint to remove my face mask, as opposed to putting it on. In addition to Covid anxiety, I realized that I didn’t have enough videogames that don’t stress me out . But then, I watched NintendoCaprisun’s Dragon Quest Builders video series, and saw what a great, superior clone of Minecraft it is. It didn’t take long for me to start playing Dragon Quest Builders 2 (henceforth known as DQB2), in hope of destressing my Covid woes.

In DQB2, a character that you name wakes up on a ship full of the Children of Hargon, a religious cult that formed in the aftermath of some other core Dragon Quest game. When you escape, you wash up on an island with a girl and this vampire-looking guy named Malroth. Since you have nothing better to do, you decide to turn the island into a pimp-ass kingdom.

I wasn’t fond of the story in the other Dragon Quest game I played, which  was Dragon Quest XI, but DQB2’s story made me LIVID. It has one of the tropes that triggers me with next to no exception: dramatic irony. Almost immediately, the game tells you that Malroth is secretly a bad guy, and it takes up to 80% of the game to reveal it. It’s so annoying, because they constantly have developments like “Whoa, why can’t Malroth build things? Everyone else and their grandma can build but not Malroth! How mysterious!” 

It gets worse than that. Based on DQXI, DQB1, and this game, Dragon Quest seems to love following clichés to the letter! While some of the dialogue is charming (specifically in the second chapter), it’s just… boring. The worst offender is the third chapter, where they’re all like “There’s a traitor here!” and stuff. At a certain point, it becomes incredibly obvious who it is, but they still play it off as if they were a galaxy-brain Impostor in Among Us. If there was a way to pre-emptively sus’ them out, that would be cool, but it seems that modern Dragon Quests do not care for multiple outcomes (which is ironic because Dragon Warrior had a very famous alternate outcome). 

The cast isn’t much better; DQB2’s characters make DQXI‘s look like Monogatari protagonists! The only character with any real arc is Malroth. And while I’d say his existential crisis is at least done relatively well, there is one annoying feature that offsets any good they did with him. Throughout the game, an omnipotent being screams “Haha you suck” in his head, and for some reason, you cannot advance its dialogue. These scenes objectively suck, and I have no idea why they had this unskippable dialogue that wasn’t even voice acted.

Well, I’ve been complaining about this game for three paragraphs, so let’s get to the good stuff already! DQB2 has some of the best Minecraftvania gameplay that I have ever experienced. There are so many different things you can build, it gets overwhelming at times. There’s also a lot of options to make it easier than in Minecraft. For example, you can learn a charged swing with your Hammer to take out big chunks at once, or use the Bottomless Pot to create bodies of water. You have the ability to switch between first and third-person perspective, which makes a difference when it comes to building. While you can use the L1 and L2 triggers to lock onto a position and hold R2 to make a lot of blocks in a row, first-person gives you more reach with your cursor. Furthermore, if you see an arrow appear next to a block, you can hold R2 to rapidly build a line of about eight blocks in that direction.

Another advantage that the DQB series in general has over Minecraft is Rooms. Placing objects in a closed off space can create a Room with a function built into the game. These really help make your bases feel alive and organic. DQB2 introduces the Fanciness and Ambience mechanics, which is determined by what items are placed in each room. They also add Sets, which are smaller, but serve their own functions. Some of them need to be placed within a Room to make a specific type of Room. There are some weird nuances with how the game considers Rooms, though. I learned that you can make the walls of a Room more than three blocks high, but any wall decoratives will only be considered part of the Room if they’re placed within the first two blocks up from the floor. It also acts weird if you have any part of the floor raised vertically, even if you put a staircase in front of it. 

Furthermore, the game has a better sense of progression than in DQB1. In DQB1, you had four self-contained islands where you started from scratch every time, down to your stats being reset to Level 1. Although someone confiscates your materials when advancing to a new story island in DQB2, you at least keep your stats and tools. Plus, the mechanics you learn have a much more cohesive sense of flow than in DQB1. In DQB1, there’s no real rhyme or reason; you get automated defenses and ores and have to re-gather existing ores and it’s weird. In DQB2, it’s more organized; the first island teaches you farming, the second teaches you mining, etc. I loved how this sense of progression was handled… to a point. As cool as the automated defenses are, they’re very short-lived. You go through a whole chapter to get them, but after that, you use them in a whopping ONE mob battle on your main island, and they’re never used again. Mob attacks on your main island straight-up STOP at this point, making them quite unnecessary.

Villagers also have a much more important role. A lot of rooms can compel them to do automated tasks, like cooking, and it really makes them feel like they’re working with you instead of you being their lapdog. This is further showcased when you inspire them to build things entirely on their own. And you’re gonna need that; you build some seriously colossal structures in this game compared to DQB1. Villagers are also more helpful in combat, plus you can give them weapons (which is your incentive to create multiples since they no longer break in this game). It can get annoying to keep track of who has what, but that’s alleviated once you can build an Armory, where they can automatically equip whatever item is stored in a chest. Also, whenever your base takes damage in a mob battle, they rebuild it in the aftermath.

Saving these other islands is well and good, but it’s all a means to an end; finding people to help build your main island. Between story bits, you help them with all sorts of tasks on your island to make it the kingdom of your dreams. In these sections, DQB2 feels like a sandbox game. I love combining mechanics from multiple islands into the same area (you get a total of three sections to manage on the main island). There’s also a ton of optional tasks that are well-worth your time. 

In addition to that, there are Explorer’s Shores. These are procedurally generated islands with exclusive resources. When arriving at one for the first time, you are tasked with examining specific objects. This can get frustrating, but a certain tool makes it relatively painless to find these objects. The issue with this is that finding more of those resources after-the-fact is a pain, because the aforementioned tool only works when the item is on your checklist. It’s annoying because one of the rarest ores in the game is hidden inside poison swampwater, which you can’t see through. I’ve had to painstakingly drain the whole thing with my Bottomless Pot, taking minutes just to find ONE deposit of that ore. In any case, your reward is an infinite supply of a certain resource, which is really helpful, mostly because that saves an inventory slot. 

And you NEED inventory slots. Colossal Coffers are nerfed, but early on, you obtain a Bag, which serves the Coffers’ function in DQB1. The Bag has seven pages of items, but it fills up shockingly fast. Even when being conscious of my inventory, I topped it off by the time I finished the final area. And as nice as these infinite items are, you have to constantly be aware of getting those items normally, in which you’ll have to open your Bag over and over again to delete them and save that inventory slot.

This is where some of the game’s issues come up. I love collecting resources, but I constantly felt overwhelmed with DQB2. You DROWN in resources in this game. When you have villagers doing multiple automated tasks, you end up having to check a lot of chests to see what they cooked up for you. The farm area of my island was always full of literally hundreds of crops. The only good way to get rid of some of these items is throwing them in Supper Sets, but I ended up having too many even with those in place. Even then, you never run out of Gratitude, which is earned by providing for your Villagers. You spend then on new recipes, but for a while, I still found myself well into the quintuple-digits with nothing to spend them on.

The big irony is that there are some resources you don’t have enough of. One thing I hated was raw meat. You can’t plant meat, so you have to kill these demon bunnies (among other things) to obtain it. They are common enough, but you need a LOT in order to cook food, or feed your pets (which can add up fast). Other things can be gathered in good quantities on trips to Explorer’s Shores, but meat always eluded me.

Let’s discuss combat now. DQB combat is pretty simple. You only have a sword slash, and a spin attack, and that’s it. While it can still get intense when they throw in specific mobs, DQB2 is pretty easy. The game also holds your hand on boss battles, but it’s not like it’s hard to figure those out anyway. The hardest parts of this game are likely the start of the story islands, since you have little resources and food. I wouldn’t complain about the game’s ease if it weren’t for the issue with your resource inflation. You get so many healing items because there’s two common enemies that frequently drop Medicinal Leaves, and you don’t NEED any healing items on the main island. While some of the later Explorer’s Shores do have pretty tough boss monsters, they’re not hard enough to justify having hundreds of Healing Herbs, nor taking the time to set up a ton of spike traps and stuff. Maybe there are secret optional mobs, but I could never find any such thing.

There are two more big flaws with DQB2, the first of which makes replay value a hard sell. At one point in the game, you are abruptly ejected from your main island and have to go through an agonizingly tedious segment that takes over an hour at best. While a similar arc in DQXI at least gives you some kind of story bits (even if it’s not much), the arc in DQB2 gives you nothing. It does give you some better context for the situation at hand, but it’s not really necessary information in the long run, plus it doesn’t develop any major protagonists involved.

The other flaw is that completion is asinine. One aspect is getting 100% on items; blocks, decoratives, cooking, etc. This gets crazy, because some items are blocks that you can’t obtain by mining them. You need to remember to use a specific tool to swap those blocks with blocks in your inventory to actually obtain them. Not only that, but there are a TON of Rooms and Sets that you aren’t told how to build. Despite how many options you have, some of them are pretty obtuse. While you are told what some of these optional Rooms are via Tablet Targets, it’s still not easy. There are also two cases of having to build a specific “place” in order to learn recipes, and since they aren’t Tablet Targets, you get no indication of what exactly the game wants. You can never tell if you are missing a decorative, or if you don’t have enough of a decorative that’s already in the room. Sometimes, one of your NPCs will occasionally tell you the requirements for a specific room, but it’s not enough to account for all the Rooms. The fun is in experimenting with stuff (I ended up building a Sculpture Gallery by accident during a story mission), but with how little time I have in my life, I don’t know how willing I am to complete the Builderpedia guideless. Also, I’m pretty sure the game has at least one missable item.

This game seems to borrow from DQXI and have a very substantial post-game. The world becomes your oyster, and you can build to your heart’s content. Three extra Explorer’s Shores are unlocked, and you get two new perks that really open things up. The first and most important one is the ability to spend that excess Gratitude to obtain any item you’ve collected before. This is a really good feature, and it can help with getting uncommon resources, as long as you’ve found it once. You also unlock the ability to craft the final Hammer upgrade, which has a very unique property. Basically, if it destroys an object that would turn into materials (like trees turning into wood), it will instead make the object itself into an item. This doesn’t really open much up in terms of crafting, plus you’ll also have to have your regular hammer take up a quick select slot if you actually want the materials. If you’re going for completion, keep in mind that you’ll need to strike crops with this hammer, for there’s a separate, decorative version of every single crop (including the rare ones) that count as different items. It does make your options extremely overwhelming, but it’s still a cool feature, and definitely helps if you really want to pimp up your island.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 9/10

Dragon Quest Builders 2 isn’t perfect, but overall, it’s a fantastic game. If you want a game that plays like Minecraft, but with more depth and the fact that the stuff you build matters, then this is the game for you. But seriously, if you want to go for completion, then godspeed, buddy.

Crown Tundra Has Truly Legendary Levels of… Grinding (Pokémon DLC Review)

I’m a big Pokémon fan, but I’ll admit that the series has been incredibly inconsistent. Sword and Shield are games that do a lot right, while also doing some things bafflingly wrong, compared to previous generations. The very vocal critics on social media don’t help the series’ case either, especially nowadays. The Isle of Armor does make a lot of improvements over the core game, but we really can’t have a final say on Gen 8 without playing through its second wave of DLC: Crown Tundra.

In the Crown Tundra, your character boards a train to the titular location and finds itself confronting some person’s very energetic father. After whipping his butt, his disgruntled child uses the opportunity to skedaddle. You join up with dad, and he makes you catch some Legendary Pokémon.

This campaign somehow has even less story than Isle of Armor. Literally, the entirety of Crown Tundra revolves around catching Legendary Pokémon. A LOT of Legendary Pokémon. I don’t know if Sword has a different cast, but for characters, I got Peony and his daughter Peonia. Peonia is kind of a brat, but her father is a fun, energetic, wholesome guy. They imply that he’s related to Rose somehow, but I don’t care deeply enough about Pokémon lore to look into it.

Structurally, I think this is the better of the two Pokémon DLCs… to a point. At the start, Peony gives you three Legendary Pokémon quests, which can be done in any order (it’s been a while since they gave you that much freedom). They’re all introduced with a hilariously long title and a fanfare, giving Peony even more personality (although I think Looker has done the same thing once or twice?). 

The main quest is to help the Crown Tundra’s Legendary Pokémon, Calyrex, who possesses Peony in order to talk to you. I think this is the first time in the main series that you directly engage with a Pokémon. You also have a case where you have to pick one of two forms of Legendary Pokémon by planting a certain type of carrot to lure its steed, which further incentivizes spending the $180 on both Sword and Shield (with DLC) in order to get 100% completion in either game. Anyhow, Calyrex is a pure Pyschic-Type, and his steed is either Ghost or Ice-Type. Calyrex and the steed are an instance of a fusion Pokémon (the first since Gen 5), and it gets both of their Abilities at once. 

For the other quests, there is a return of the Regis. As expected, you have to solve riddles. They are nowhere near as obtuse as the Braille stuff in Gen 3, but in case you can’t solve one, Peony will give you some helpful advice (not that I actually used him because I was overthinking or anything >_>). Gathering all three regular Regis at the final door does not give you Regigigas, but a choice between brand-new Electric and Dragon-Type Regis. The third quest is the most interesting because you actually get to catch regional variants of Gen 1’s Legendary birds. They’re roaming Legendaries, but unlike in games of old, you simply just run into them as they fly around in the overworld and fight them straight-up; definitely an upgrade.

Unfortunately, they seem to be following Isle of Armor’s model of making incredibly grindy mechanics to actually give you bang for your buck. No matter what you do, 99% of your time on Crown Tundra will be spent in the Max Lair. It is both a fun and awful idea. Basically, the Max Lair is a gauntlet of randomly generated Max Raid battles. Your team (or just you if you play with A.I.) picks a path and fights whatever is there. You can run into berries or helpful people along the way; either a backpacker who can give you a selection of hold items or a scientist who offers a random rental Pokémon. You fight four consecutive Max Raid battles, ending with a random Dynamax Legendary Pokémon. The big plus is that the Dynamax Pokémon here are nowhere near as bad as in the overworld (mainly because they don’t have shields), but the fact that you have to fight four of them in a row is rough because the “if four Pokémon faint, you lose” rule applies to the entire thing instead of individual fights.

What spices things up is that everyone gets random rental Pokémon. These rentals are actually pretty good, and a lot of interesting strategies can come up. I imagine this mode is amazing with friends, but as a noob who doesn’t have friends or a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, well… Max Lair sucks. For starters, you can get a bad setup of rental Pokémon options versus the Pokémon you encounter in the actual dungeon. And while you can catch a beaten Dynamax Pokémon and switch it out of your team, the fifteen seconds you get to decide a path is nowhere near enough to optimize a root. And if you have A.I., one of them will always switch out for the newly defeated Dynamax Pokémon, even if you choose not to catch it, and even if it has a type disadvantage against a future opponent. Save-scumming works, but you eventually have to spend Dynite Ore for doing it too often. “What’s Dynite Ore?” you ask. Dynite Ore is your reward for playing Max Lair. Completing a run only nets you nine. NINE.  And to get the good stuff, including an item that gives your Pokémon its Hidden Ability, you need hundreds of the stuff. You do unlock an endless mode that gives you more Dynite Ore in exchange for not getting to keep any caught Pokémon, but I didn’t dabble in it. Overall, Max Lair WILL kick your butt, especially if you’re using A.I., and since you only have a vague idea of what Pokémon you’re up against, you won’t know if it’s worth save-scumming for a particular Legendary. The even better part is that you only keep one rental Pokémon at the end of a run. And guess what, some of the regular Pokémon you encounter are exclusive to Max Lair, which means you’ll still be playing through it even if you catch every Legendary! This also includes the opportunity to catch Ultra Beasts once you complete Crown Tundra, but I couldn’t find a single one in the attempts I made.

Other than that, I presume that completing both DLC campaigns unlocks the Galarian Star Tournament (since that’s how it happened with me), which is a repeatable team battle royale thing that will pit you and a partner against other Gym Leaders and characters. It’s easy if you have Hop, since he has his Gen 8 Legendary which can pretty much eat anything that isn’t Fire-Type. In other news, Peonia alludes to some weird woman who runs around at night, but I couldn’t get that to trigger. I tend to always miss some kind of post-game quest or whatnot in Pokémon games, so take this review with a grain of salt.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 8/10

While Crown Tundra is very small (and VERY grindy), I believe that it, along with the Isle of Armor, are a step in the right direction for Pokémon as a whole. They take the open-world mechanic of the Wild Area, but give it more variety and substance. Plus, the idea of putting dedicated sidequests in an area is cool. If they take these same ideas and integrate them into a future core game, then we might have something good. But of course, knowing the series’ trends, any new idea they implement will be discarded, regardless of how objectively good it is. 

Overall, I’m not entirely sure if the Expansion Pass is worth it. Obviously, you need it if you want completion, but both areas are still incredibly grindy. I kind of agree with the critics that the series hasn’t been the best it could be, but that’s mainly because I love Black and White 2 too much (maybe I’d do a retrospective on it if I had time or the willingness to erase either of my save files). Well, with Pokémon, I’m willing to pull a Star Wars fan and blindly hope that they’ll eventually release something really good despite them very consistently failing at every turn (Ooooh snap). Well, this got long-winded. Basically, I recommend the DLC if you’re a Pokémon veteran and just love the games in general.

Bug Fables Manages to Scratch that Paper Mario Itch… to a Point (Full Game Review)

Personally, I’ve always had a vendetta against indie games, not because I think a lot of them are bad, but because a lot of them are too inherently good, to the point where they can get away with having flaws. For example, many of them, such as Undertale or Fez, rely on unique aesthetics and gimmicks to stand out from the crowd (side note: ‘Megalovania’ is the most overrated videogame song of all time). Others, like What Remains of Edith Finch or Firewatch, completely disregard gameplay in order to appeal to raw human emotion in ways more intimate than most triple-A games. In addition to that, indie games having that inherent appeal of “the mom-and-pop business that does better than the corrupt, money-grubbing corporation”, and they sometimes have a better sense of what the market wants than actual triple-A companies. One example is the recent RPG, Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling, made to be a successor to the classic Paper Mario that we have wanted for over a decade and have yet to receive. Paper Mario: The Origami King is probably good for what it is (I heard mixed things), Bug Fables claims to be what the doctor actually ordered. Since it’s apparently pretty short (for an RPG), I decided to see how it measures up to classic Paper Mario.

In the kingdom of Bugaria, some ant queen lady wanted to find this MacGuffin called the Everlasting Sapling to become immortal. She failed, and so her daughter started the Explorer’s Association in order to hire adventurers to do the job for her. Three intrepid heroes, Kabbu, Vi, and Leif set out to find it and become heroes.

It takes only five seconds to see how influenced by Paper Mario this thing is. From the presence of Action Commands, to its art style, its writing, and… piss-poor inventory space, Bug Fables tries very hard to be the new Paper Mario. In order to find out if it succeeds, we need to cover one aspect of the game at a time (and, of course, compare them to Paper Mario).

The narrative is simple as all heck. In each chapter, you go to a dungeon, beat a boss, and get a thing. It comes off as predictable, but in actuality, does an admirable job of throwing curveballs at you. It is straightforward, though, and I didn’t really find it that gripping from a raw emotional standpoint. It has some cool lore, but I never found it particularly fascinating myself. What did surprise me was the cast of characters. The three bugs take advantage of all having dialogue (unlike Paper Mario with its silent protagonist), and use that to have a number of fun interactions with each other. 

But of course, Paper Mario fans care about the writing. Bug Fables‘ writing is definitely great. It even has a lot of characters muttering off-hand comments beneath the main speech bubble, just like in Paper Mario. The three main characters also share some chemistry that isn’t possible in a Paper Mario game (Best Girl Vi is especially a treat among the other characters). Unfortunately, the writing and characters don’t completely fill in the void for me. While both are great, there’s something special about the classic Paper Mario games, and even Super Paper Mario. Bug Fables’ doesn’t have anyone as lovable as, say, Koopa Jr., Pennington, Flint Cragley, Francis, and DEFINITELY no one like good ol’ Bowser. Additionally, the bug theming makes some character designs blur together for me.

Graphically, Bug Fables is beautiful. The game’s simple color palette and thick outlines scream that classic Paper Mario look; even the area transition paths have the same triangle pattern to them! Unfortunately, there isn’t much in terms of creative level design. I’m willing to give the game the benefit of the doubt in the event that there’s a sequel, but for now, the areas—while being creatively set in backyard objects like a sandbox and a tire—are your typical videogame biomes. Even the first Paper Mario, which had the most generic world, at least had something like the Toy Box. Eventually, Thousand-Year Door would go above and beyond by having places like a monochromatic forest with a Pikmin-related dungeon, an arena, and a luxury express train; even the main hub area is iconic for how slummy it is compared to other parts of the Mario universe. Bug Fables just doesn’t hit that nail on the head, except in the final area, but that place is unceremoniously short compared to Paper Mario final dungeons.

Furthermore, I didn’t find the soundtrack to be super amazing. It has a lot of great tracks, which feel retro in that uniquely indie-type way. But for me, they fall short of Paper Mario soundtracks, especially Thousand Year Door‘s. I get that it’s trying to be its own thing, but Paper Mario is so much more involved and varied than Bug Fables. I’m sorry, but that’s just how it is IMO.

Paper Mario is known for great puzzles, and Bug Fables steps it up a notch. At first, everyone only has one ability, but throughout the game, you get new powers which open up all sorts of possibilities. Unfortunately, there is one particular ability that I don’t like, and it’s Vi’s Beemerang. In theory, it serves as the Kooper or Koops of Bug Fables; you throw it, or hold it in midair and release it. Unlike Kooper or Koops, who only attacked left or right, the Beemerang can be thrown in eight directions. But due to the game’s own artistic style… THERE ARE ONLY FOUR DIRECTIONAL SPRITES FOR THE CHARACTERS. As a result, I found myself throwing it in the completely wrong direction at times, which bugged (HA) the living daylights out of me. 

Fortunately, Bug Fables excels with its combat, which has more depth than Paper Mario‘s system. The basic mechanics are the same: Each person has HP, TP which is shared, and MP used to equip medals (a.k.a. badges). Action Commands are a thing, and you’ll have to learn them from scratch regardless of your Paper Mario experience.

What’s most important is turn order. Each person gets one action in battle (unless you use field attacks to stun an enemy, in which case you’d get two attacks for whoever the leading character is), and you can attack in any order with B. Their position, from front to middle to back, is based on your formation in the field. Like Final Fantasy, people in front deal more damage and get aggroed by enemies, while the opposite is true for the back row. You can change your party’s turn order in battle as well. Oh, and a BIG improvement over Paper Mario is that anyone can Tattle (a.k.a. Spy on) an enemy; no need for that one party member who has no use other than to Tattle!

You will NEED to get used to manipulating who attacks in what order. A lot of your party’s attacks can exploit enemy weaknesses, such as using Kabbu’s horn to flip enemies over. There’s also the Turn Relay, which sacrifices a character’s turn to give someone else an additional one. However, one thing to be aware of is that a character’s damage output weakens if they have to attack more than once in a round (this also applies to starting out with advantage). Make sure you’re going to really benefit despite the decrease in power!

Another thing you NEED to be able to do is Blocking. The mechanic is just about the same as it is in Paper Mario: press A before an enemy attack lands and you’ll reduce the damage. Doing it with extra-perfect timing results in a Super Block that reduces the damage further. One good improvement over Paper Mario is that any party member who isn’t being targeted will turn transparent, making it easier to time your blocks. 

When it comes to the difficulty level of Bug Fables, ooooh… this is where it gets iffy. Right at the beginning of the game, you can obtain a medal called Hard Mode. It costs no MP to equip (thank goodness), but it boosts all enemies’ strength in exchange for more EXP and rewards. The game becomes VERY difficult in this state. You will need to not just get good at Blocks, but Super Blocks as well, otherwise, regular mobs will beat you within inches of your life. Bosses are… absurdly tough. They aren’t indie-game-tough, but they get an entire assortment of new moves and grant permanent buffs (I know because I accidentally beat a boss on normal and had to reload). The incentive is that beating bosses will earn you actual rewards beyond a lousy achievement, and these rewards tend to be really stinkin’ good. 

The big problem with Hard Mode is that the game’s own mechanics ends up making that medal shoot itself in the foot. Bug Fables has the same mechanics as Paper Mario when it comes to handing out EXP. When you’re considered overleveled, you only get one EXP per mob; i.e. per entire battle. The problem is that the game is NOT programmed to evaluate your level based on Hard Mode. As a result, I was able to reap the benefits of Hard Mode early on, but just by fighting enemies as they came, I became overleveled without grinding, and as a result, I’d end up going to main story locations, having to fight stressful battles against the mobs there, and getting NOTHING for it. Sure, the issue can be mitigated by equipping the Bug Me Not medal, which allows you to destroy enemies that are considered significantly weaker than you on the field, but it’s just plain stupid (and also dumb) that the high-risk-high-reward medal becomes high-risk-low-reward as a result of the game’s own mechanics. The only non-boss enemies that give you any EXP after a while are the rare Golden Seedlings. They function just like Amayzee Dayzees from Paper Mario; if they don’t run away, they can one-shot any party member from full health. 

Furthermore, leveling up just doesn’t do much of anything. Like in Paper Mario, leveling up allows you to choose one- and only one- stat gain in HP, TP, or MP. However, no matter how often you level up, it’ll never feel like enough. HP gains only provide one—ONE—Max HP to the party, and TP only gives three- THREE (MP is the same as Paper Mario’s BP). You need to use your TP-consuming skills, but it drains too quickly. You need HP to survive, because it doesn’t take long for enemies to do five to seven damage in a single attack (especially in Hard Mode). You also need MP to equip valuable medals, but you also need the other two stats! I get that the decision is supposed to be tough, but due to the overleveling mechanic, it never happens often enough. This really makes the game feel less fun to play. In fact, I hit max level before even starting the final dungeon, and I didn’t even grind except for money!

Another problem I had was with the Recipes. In Paper Mario, cooking stuff was definitely helpful, but you could still get by with just the Ultra Shrooms and Jammin’ Jellies that you find. Bug Fables doesn’t naturally give you higher-tier restoratives. Ever. You’re stuck with the lowest level healing items, and it is imperative to take them to chefs to make better ones. However, I just couldn’t figure out the recipes well; more than 90% of the combinations I would try would turn into Mistakes. For more than half of the game, my best healing items were Leaf Omelets and Glazed honey, which quickly became inadequate, especially on Hard Mode. While I wouldn’t mind trying every combination with brute force, cooking ingredients—naturally—destroyed them forever, even with incompatible ones. And with some rare items coming in finite supply if you don’t buy them off of sellers for an absurd amount of money, you’d have to save-scum a LOT to get all the recipes. Fortunately, the recipes that matter are learned naturally via quests, but they tend to be BIG investments. For example, one of said recipes is a collaboration between three different chefs that can be incredibly tedious to make. 

In the end, I didn’t enjoy it enough to do 100%. I did a good majority of it, but when I hit max level, I just wanted to be done (call me a filthy casual if you must). There’s even a whole children’s card game that I didn’t even bother with (it’s basically War meets Yu-Gi-Oh), as well as a casino area. I also didn’t dabble in the postgame whatsoever (so much for a Full Game Review, am I right?). There’s even what I presume to be a field ability that I never even obtained (whatever it is that lets you open wooden doors found throughout the game)! But like I said, I just wanted it to be done.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 8.4/10

I don’t care if one or one million people make a game; if it has issues, I WILL acknowledge them! Bug Fables is a great game, but it’s not perfect. And while it does nail some classic Paper Mario tropes, while also adding some interesting elements to combat, the risks-vs-rewards system with Hard Mode is a bit iffy. This game proves that only Nintendo can put out a 100% true, classic Paper Mario game, and we’ll just have to pray for the miracle of that happening. For now, Bug Fables is enough to tide us over (and lets hope it gets a sequel or five).

Dragon Quest XI Shows that Simplicity is a Double-Edged Sword (Full Game Review)

JRPGs are my favorite genre of videogames by far. Even though I understand that a lot of them are time sinks and take a long time to really strut their stuff. Just how much benefit of the doubt should they get? After my first impressions of Dragon Quest XI… about a year ago, I finally managed to finish the game. Let’s see how it measures up now.

Hopefully you don’t play JRPGs for the story because DQXI goes out of its way to be a bog-standard JRPG. The plot is about the main character, whom you get to name whatever you want. He is a special hero guy who needs to fight a big bad atop the same World Tree that’s been ripped from Norse mythology for about the 12,221st time to date. 

First things first, I do get that this game is meant to be an homage to simpler times. JRPGs these days get so layered that it’s near impossible to keep up (looking at you, Trails of Cold Steel), and DQXI is a good break from that. However, cliche is cliche.

But of course, I believe in execution over ideas. And for DQXI, I feel kind of mixed. At first, the cutscenes seemed pretty short and sweet; enough to get the point across since they know you’ve seen all this before. But in the second half of the game, it started to take itself super seriously, and the cutscenes got more abundant. The cinematics felt bog-standard, and even half-assed at times. I felt like this game didn’t know if it wanted to provide a streamlined narrative or if it wanted to pass itself off as something more epic.

And to be honest, it’s more so me instead of the game. In my life, I’ve seen variations of the same lines of dialogue hundreds, if not thousands, of times. I decided that I needed to pick my battles when it came down to if I wanted to be emotionally invested in a story, and DQXI did not make the cut. I see comments like “It’s cliche, but it has a ton of heart” for stuff like this, and that’s when I realized that the appeal of Dragon Quest as a whole is that human emotional mindset that eludes me to this day.

In addition to the narrative, the characters embody JRPG tropes at their most uninspired and cliche; the very definition of by-the-book. The only character that I liked was Sylvando, but that’s more so because his archetype is inherently difficult to mess up compared to everyone else. And Toriyama… I’m sorry, but it feels like this man’s finally starting to run out of steam as an artist. While the art style itself is timeless, after this many years, one can only come up with so many ideas. Either a character is more or less ripped straight from Dragon Ball (like the main character, who looks too much like Android 17), or it appears Toriyama just took a stock fantasy design and slapped his signature face style on it.

I am ragging on the story and characters a lot, but if there’s one positive, it’s… the fact that this game came out in the 2010s. If anyone’s familiar with the good ol’ days (or watches a lot of YouTubers who play old games), you’d know that localization was a BIT terrible back then. They botched numerous translations, and straight-up censored any presence of Japanese culture (which Yo-Kai Watch does anyway *grumble* *grumble*), and anything that Westerners would consider taboo. As a result, it’s weird to see a lot of old tropes not censored in DQXI. We have plenty of porno mags, actually translated as such, and the game’s weird obsession with trying to involve the main character and his older half-sister in an incestuous relationship. They do censor prostitution with the onomatopoeia “*puff* *puff*”, but that could be chalked up as a timeless Dragon Quest meme that just stuck over the years. Another BIG distinction is that this is the first JRPG I have ever played that refers to KO’d party members as “dead”. SO EDGY. The story writing might be meh, but at least the flavor text isn’t!

And even then, sometimes the flavor text has TOO much personality. For example, if there’s anything you are unable to do in the game, the text is arbitrarily read as “You can’t currently do XYZ yet”. As a writer, I learned to not have such redundancy in text, and it bothers me that it’s in an official game; it felt like they were just bragging about how good their localization is. Another standout feature is that every area has its own [racist] dialect. While some of them are cute, these accents are often so thick that I had legitimate trouble reading them. Sometimes, too much of a good thing is bad.

Fortunately, what I really care about is gameplay. DQXI is a good, old fashioned, rootin’ tootin’, retro JRPG. When battle starts, you pick your character’s command when it’s their turn, and do the move. Everything is as it says on the tin. If you’ve played a JRPG, you’ve played this one. Battles can also be set to go extra fast, just in case you need to grind, but this game isn’t designed to be grindy (but that doesn’t mean grinding isn’t encouraged, like for materials and stuff). 

Thankfully, DQXI has a lot of modern quality-of-life mechanics. For example, you can press Y on the pause menu to instantly heal every party member in the most MP-friendly way possible (THANK YOU). Also, whenever you sell an item, the shopkeep will warn you if you’re about to sell something one-of-a-kind. 

Conversely, there is a very Earthbound-like inventory management mechanic. Each party member can carry only so many items, including equipment. Fortunately, there are infinitely large bags for excess items, equipment, as well as a slot for key items. Transferring items is pretty easy, but you gotta remember to do it, or else you’ll be thirty-plus hours into the game, in a tough battle, and only have poop-tier healing items.

The modern twist that Dragon Quest XI uses to stand out is Pep Powers. With Pep Powers, your character basically goes Super Saiyan (since this is an Akira Toriyama game, after all), and if the right party members are Pepped, you get access to what essentially are Dual and Triple Techs from Chrono Trigger, and as expected, being able to try out all these combinations is no doubt the best aspect of the game. However, there are a number of issues. Although the game says that Pep kicks in after your character takes a lot of damage, similar to a Tales Of game’s Overlimit, in my experience it seems to be purely random. Furthermore, the Pep status goes away as soon as you use one Pep Power, or after a certain number of turns, which the game thankfully gives a visual indication on the last turn that it’s available on. What sucks is that the Pep Powers are the coolest aspect of the game, yet you cannot control the conditions at which you use them other than with items that you don’t get until AFTER YOU BEAT THE FINAL BOSS. Fortunately, ending a battle in the Pep state causes it to carry over, which can help in a tougher battle; but at the same time you’d have to grind battles if you wish to rely on Pep for said situations. 

Another thing I find tedious is the game’s skill tree. Normally, I love skill trees in JRPGs, however, Dragon Quest XI‘s is really stingy. You only get skill points on level up, which starts off small but comes in bigger chunks at higher levels. This is good because most skills require 6, 10, or even more skill points each. There is a mechanic to unlearn skills, but it can only work on entire categories, which is a pain if you only want to drop one skill.

One of the most interesting aspects of the game is that everyone has different weapons they can use, such as a regular sword or a greatsword for the main protagonist. Each section of their skill tree is devoted to one of the weapon styles, plus an additional style that’s unique to them only. I’ve been doing skill trees by committing to a single section at a time, which is likely not the way the game intends, since skills are pricier the further out from the center you go, and it’s a real pain. The game lets you re-equip different weapons mid-battle without taking up your turn, which is nice, so it’s possible that the game wants you to fill in multiple branches at once.

The crafting system in Dragon Quest XI is really fun. With the Fun-time Forge, you can craft new equipment with materials you find around the world (as well as their recipes). This starts a minigame where you have a limited number of strikes to fill up gauges on different areas of the equipment. You want to fill it up to the green section, but REALLY want to fill up to the arrow on each gauge (which will be indicated by it turning yellow). The closer you get, the better the final product will be, with the best being a Perfection. Forging things successfully gives you Perfectionist Pearls, which can be consumed to reforge something to make it stronger. Make sure you reforge as many things as possible, because it doesn’t just increase stats, but the power of bonus effects, like elemental and status resistances. Levelling up the main character also boosts your forging skills, which can increase your Focus and allow him to learn Flourishes, which are special moves that make the minigame even more interesting than before. Options are limited early on, but it gets rather interesting on the tougher equipment.

The world of DQXI is- although colorful and vibrant- very large and bland. I get that this world was designed with the ability to be played in old school top-down style or 3D, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less uninspired. Also, the game’s soundtrack is kind of meh, but it doesn’t grate on you unless you start doing tedious stuff like material farming. The towns have the best personality and the most thought put into them, but they seem to act like vehicles for padding the game more than anything else.

Oh, speaking of padding: get used to that a lot. Like I said before, each first arrival in a new town has you running around towards numerous objectives that take place throughout the town itself. The worst case is the interlude in between the first two acts of the game. In it, you have to play through four consecutive scenarios, each starting a party member by themselves, and none of them are even remotely enjoyable besides the first one. You can also potentially permanently miss collectibles during these scenes, and I only say “potentially” because it’s not entirely clear if optional stuff done in these scenarios has impact for later (if this was a Final Fantasy or Tales Of game, it definitely would). 

But after that agonizing section, the game truly starts. It sucks that it takes about thirty-five hours, but it really does go from a slightly-above-average JRPG to a straight-up great JRPG. There is so much more depth, and each party member gets a ton of new abilities after going through huge epiphanies in their character arcs. Once you start this part of the game, it appears that you can tackle things in any order you choose… until you are gated time and time again by several annoying prerequisites. I hate it when games do this, and DQXI is no exception.

As far as side quests go, there aren’t as many as most JRPGs. However, there is also a side section where you find weird ghosts that unlock different areas of past Dragon Quest worlds in a special, 2D only zone. The biggest problem with 2D mode is that the text box color and font color can be very straining to read. Plus, you can’t save in this place at all, which reduces the incentive to knock out many quests at once. These never expire, so it’s ideal to do them all at onces towards the end of the game (also, you don’t have to gouge your eyes out at the freakin’ UI for as long since you’d be higher level).

The game also has a Draconian Quest setting, which lets you custom set some handicaps which will make the game harder. I chose one where NPCs can sometimes lie, because I thought they would give me false game advice, such as, “Use this ability on this enemy, whoops that actually does the opposite of killing them,” but the lies are all gobble-di-gook and the game plays a jingle whenever one actually occurred. It’s funny if it happens with a story-important NPC, but I imagine it gets really hard if you have tough enemies and no armor handicaps. The later parts of the game would be nightmarish like this.

When it comes to a casual campaign, DQXI is relatively tame. As long as your party is at its proper level, and you understand the mechanics, it isn’t too difficult. There are some dumb quirks, however, such as the fact that enemies can randomly start with an advantage even when you get a pre-emptive strike. Another really stupid thing is the case with any status that can be cured by attacking the afflicted person. If you use an attack that targets all enemies, you will target the person with the status as well. I have gotten characters killed because of this. Also, I have a pet peeve for any JRPG where you can’t see the turn order in battle, and DQXI is one such case.

Like any JRPG, DQXI has gambling. Fortunately, DQXI has one of the most generous cases of gambling in any JRPG. The game has two casinos, the second of which comes up during the second act. Naturally, the latter casino has the better prizes. In fact, the first casino doesn’t have anything worth buying long term, except for some recipe book. The other casino has a great weapon for Sylvando, some really useful equipment, and the only purchasable MP restoratives in the game. 

The only method I used to earn tokens was the good old slots. I wasn’t old (read as: stupid) enough to gamble IRL, so I never got to understand how things like blackjack and roulettes work. The Slime Quest slots had twelve pages of instructions, and I couldn’t understand crap. I presume the regular slots are the least lucrative method, but they’re reliable. Use save scumming often, and build up enough tokens off of the low paying machines to bet big on the red, high paying machines. The slots are very generous; once you build two of a kind, the game is likely to indulge and complete it for you. You also have a chance of a Mrs. Slime giving you a push if you’re one away from completing a combination. The best thing that can happen is Metal Mode, which will temporarily double the value of everything. Generally, I had much more luck during this state than regular slots. Earning Free Spins is also great because it prioritizes using them over Silver Spins. Thus, earning them during Metal Mode will effectively give you extra Silver Spins. Getting five 7s in Metal Mode gives you the jackpot, and I’ve earned around seven of them during my gameplay. This is by far the easiest gambling area in any JRPG.

If there’s anything I’ll give props to Dragon Quest XI for, it’s perhaps having one the most substantial post-games of any JRPG I’ve ever played. It doesn’t just open up an entirely new story arc, but it gives you tons of new quests, the Ultimate Key to help access new areas, and more. Unfortunately, the whole premise of the post-game is so bad that it makes any remotely salvageable aspect of the main story null and void.

To sum up the post-game, you basically travel back in time to pre-emptively defeat the final boss (don’t worry; it’s a completely different fight the second time), which causes an EVEN EVILER EVIL to appear. While it’s typical for new villains to show up for no reason in battle shounen, the time travel aspect is what kills it. Toriyama is no stranger to the trope, but in this particular instance, a lot of the genuine struggles of the latter half of the game are completely wiped off the slate. One of your main party members dies, and is brought back with no consequence. Any amount of character development is out the window. With the exception of two party members, you just experience abridged versions of those same struggles that feel way stiffer than the first time around. And all the new abilities that they awakened at that point? Mr. Popo just waves some pixie dust and they learn it all back instantly! I was willing to give the plot some sort of benefit of the doubt, but this post-game arc crosses the line. I mean, wow.

One final confession before I give the final score: I’m publishing this review without having completely completed the post-game. I’m sorry, but I have next to no time in my life. I simply do not like DQXI enough to effectively double the length of the game (yes that’s how much there is to do after the final boss). But honestly, I doubt that beating the final FINAL boss will single-handedly change my opinion of the WHOLE game.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 8/10

Dragon Quest XI is a great JRPG, but it’s not the best. I find it baffling that a lot of people in the community seem to absolutely adore this game, as if it was one of the greatest JRPGs ever. Maybe they figured out how to manipulate the Pep Powers, which could’ve enhanced the experience. It could be a generational thing; it borrows elements from Final Fantasy 6 and Chrono Trigger, and while veterans might see an inferior variant, kids who’re playing DQXI as their first ever JRPG would have their minds blown nonetheless. Overall, I’d recommend DQXI if you’re a JRPG junkie, but there are a lot of other things that outclass it.

Pokemon Sword and Shield: Isle of Armor DLC Campaign Review

The eight Generation of Pokemon has been perhaps the most controversial in the series’ history. Pokemon Sword and Shield has gotten a bad rap since they were first announced, when it was stated that there would be no National Pokedex for the first time in the franchise. And the games themselves have… issues. In my own review of Pokemon Shield, I praised the graphics, quality-of-life improvements, somewhat decent character development, and enjoyable difficulty level. However, it also had a lacking postgame, and perhaps the emptiest region design in the entire series. Plus, the Wild Areas- which could’ve made Pokemon a more open-world and grandiose JRPG- were just vast expanses of nothing. Despite all this, the new DLC might make Gen Eight more viable. Today, I cover the first part of the Sword and Shield DLC: Isle of Armor, specifically, the Shield version.

In this DLC campaign, your character is mysteriously given the Armor Pass, which allows them to go to the Isle of Amor. As you enter the train station, you end up fighting against a Galarian Slowpoke (unless you played the update beforehand in which case you already did that months ago), and catch a glimpse of a strange character heading off to the aforementioned Isle. When you arrive there yourself, you are challenged by this person and compelled to train at this Master Dojo place on the island.

With this being DLC, the story here can’t intrude on the main story; consider it filler in an old anime. The Pokemon here average at around level 60, and with battles exceeding level 70, making it seem like you are meant to go here during the postgame. But tbh, there really isn’t much of a story. You go there, fight some people, get a new Pokemon. The dojo master does foreshadow some kind of undisclosed event at the end, but I’m going to assume that’s Crown Tundra territory, since I couldn’t find anything of plot interest after the campaign.

This DLC does introduce some new faces, and one of them is determined by your version of the game. My new rival on the Isle of Armor was an eccentric, tye-dye-clad psychic named Avery. He is a lot like Kukui from Sun and Moon; someone with a secret other personality, and the tendency to use Pokemon moves’ names in their dialogue. His character arc was short, but sweet. The Dojo Master, Mustard, is also a great character with that lovable “old-fart-who’s-actually-really-strong” personality.

I don’t know about you, but I spent a lot of postgame doing Dynamax hunting, and since I was stuck with poopy A.I., I jacked up my team members’ levels to average at the mid seventies, way too high for the Isle of Armor. So, I made an entirely new team, with Pokemon caught specifically in the Isle. While some were carried over from the main overworld, there were definitely a lot of missed faces from previous Generations, such as Sharpedo and Jigglypuff. I was able to use Pokemon that I had never used myself in a serious campaign, and I was glad at this opportunity from the Isle of Armor. Since it’s short, I might just take the same team to Crown Tundra.

Design-wise, the Isle of Armor shows some great positives. After you fight your first battle, you’re told to head to the Master Dojo immediately. In most Pokemon games, you’d be blocked every which way various NPC, such as poachers who tried to force you to buy their Slowpoke Tails. But here, you are actually able to explore the whole perimeter of the island to your heart’s content. There’s also a lot more biomes in this area than in the main Wild Areas.

Unfortunately, the Isle of Armor is still an island, and an unsurprisingly small one. It only takes about a couple of hours to scope out the whole area, and that’s if you try to catch every new Pokemon as you see them. The individual biomes themselves are also similarly bland to the Wild Areas, with Pokemon placement just as haphazard as before.

But just because it’s small, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to do. Unfortunately, a lot of that “lot” is helping out the Diglett Trainer. There are ONE HUNDRED FIFTY Alolan Digletts all over this place, and he wants you to find them. It’s nowhere near as bad as the Red Lobster thing in Xenoblade Chronicles X, and for a number of reasons. For one thing, the game actually tells you how many are in each area. And more importantly, ALL OF THEM EXIST AT ONCE. But if you don’t have 20/20 vision, good luck finding them. Your only visual indication is the three little hairs that stick out of the ground, which blend in in a lot of places. You obtain a regional variant Pokemon for hitting certain milestones. I didn’t find all of them because my last reward was Alolan Eggxecutor and that was good enough for me. There is also a new mechanic with the Watts. After a certain point, you can donate them to spruce up the dojo. It takes HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS to get all the upgrades, and I honestly didn’t have that kind of time.

In addition to this is the Armorite Ore mechanic. You earn these by doing Dynamax battles on the island, and they can be used on this one dude to dig for more Watts, a guy at the dojo to teach some exclusive new moves (as in entirely new to the series), and on this one lady in an all-or-nothing gamble for additional Armorite Ore. The first and latter mechanics are all luck-based. Also luck-based is the Cram-o-Matic. You can insert items and pray that you get a better one. Using berries can make TRs appear. Additionally, Apricorns return to this game, and using them can get you a rare Poke Ball… if you’re lucky.

A welcome addition is Max Soup. This stuff can take any Pokemon whose species is capable of Gigantimaxing, and enable that to any of that species that can’t Gigantimax. This is a really good mechanic. However, it requires Max Mushrooms, which are easy enough to find, but only respawn after Dynamax Battles. And as someone who needs to rely on A.I. trainers to win them… I didn’t exactly get to use Max Soup too often.

The new Pokemon are the biggest reason to play Isle of Armor. First up is Galarian Slowbro. There are two reasons why it’s one of my favorite regional variants yet. The first reason is that I’ll never forget the time when Chuggaaconroy trollishly made Lucahjin and MasaeAnela draw it during TheRunawayGuys Colosseum Direct before it was ever revealed. The second reason is that it’s flat-out really good. It comes with the unique Poison-Psychic type, and the effect of the Quick Claw as an ability. I paired it up with an actual Quick Claw… and have no idea if the effects stack. But hey, it makes me feel good!

The other new Pokemon is Kubfu. It starts off as a typical Fighting-Type, but after MUCH level grinding, you can use it to take on one of two towers. Whichever one you beat determines which version of Urushifu it evolves into. Urushifu is definitely a great Pokemon, or at least my version is. It comes with an ability where it ignores Protect as long as it attacks with a direct contact move, plus a signature move with great base power that always crits.

As I said before, there isn’t anything of story interest after you finish Isle of Armor (unless I missed it). But there is one thing that does appear: Restricted Sparring. This is a competitive battle gauntlet, much like the Battle Tower, but you can only use teams with a matching Type. It’s really interesting, especially as someone who’s always wanted to do entire campaigns in this manner. But since it has teams built around competitive battling… yeah, I didn’t dabble in it too much.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 7.65/10

The Isle of Armor improves a lot of Sword and Shield mechanics, and shows the potential for what a hypothetical Generation Nine can hold. However, it’s short-lived and relies on grindy mechanics in order for you to get the bang for your buck. It’s worth playing if you’re a series’ veteran, but it’s more rational to wait and see if the Crown Tundra can justify the Expansion Pass’ cost.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II Full Game Review

PREFACE: In case you do not already know, I should warn you the Trails of Cold Steel Franchise is explicitly designed to be played in chronological order. No, it doesn’t have a stupidly convoluted plot like Metal Gear or Kingdom Hearts, but this is nonetheless a direct continuation of the first game. As such, this review will contain unmarked spoilers of the first game. I will also not explain any basic mechanics of the first game, as you are expected to know already from playing it. If you are interested in this franchise, click on this link to read my review of Trails of Cold Steel I.


Intro

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel has its strengths and weaknesses, but overall, it was never meant to be a full game; no, it exists solely to lay down the groundwork for a truly epic tale, spanning four massive games. I was more engaged in the story of Cold Steel than any JRPG I’ve ever played, and it was definitely one of the best turn-based JRPGs in terms of gameplay. With that ridiculous ending- Crow being one of the main antagonists, mechs existing, Crossbell’s declaration of independence, mechs existing, Ouroboros and Fie’s old squad have been helping the Noble Alliance pull all the political strings, MECHS EXISTING- my body was beyond ready for the sequel. The first Cold Steel set the expectations, now it’s up to The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, to meet said expectations.

When we last left our intrepid hero, Rean Schwarzer, he- in his mech, Valimar- was forced to leave his buddies in Class VII behind during a losing battle against Crow, the leader of the Imperial Liberation Front. A month later, Rean wakes up on a mountain range with Emma’s mysterious cat, Celine. Now it’s time for him to make like a battle shounen protagonist and pick himself back off the ground and find what’s left of Class VII! 

Same World, New Problem

Immediately, the game starts off way sadder than Cold Steel I (even if the opening sorta ruins it a little by showing that EVERY student in Class VII is still alive). As soon as you start the game, the familiar title card appears dark, with the words singed by fire. A minor-key remix of the original game’s titlescreen music plays, and zooms in on Rean’s unconscious body. His voice actor sounds much more distraught than usual at first, and his portrait in the menu looks like someone who’s been through hell and back. Then, mere minutes after you find respite in his hometown of Ymir during the prologue, the town gets attacked. In most JRPGs, I’d say that an opening like this would constitute little more than shock value. But since this is a continuation of an existing story, it’s actually more effective, since you’re likely to be invested in the story if you’re picking up this game up after playing the previous one.

If you’re still new to the series, and you’re STILL reading this review anyway, I should SERIOUSLY warn you that the game basically gives you the finger for not starting from the beginning. There are two reasons why it’s seriously important to start from Cold Steel I, and the first of which is merely because it will be way too overwhelming if you don’t. The title screen does have a menu to read a recap of the first game, but honestly, the first game is so involved, you’d spend hours of Cold Steel II trying to memorize everything while trying to follow the present plot. 

But even for a returning player, it can be confusing knowing who’s on what team. So here, I’ll remind you. The Imperial Liberation Front is in cahoots with Fie’s old jaeger squad, Zephyr, who both report to Duke Ceyenne, the leader of the Noble Alliance. Ouroboros is with them as well, but Sharon seems to be a double agent; someone on both our and their side. Vita, the sexy sorceress lady, seems to be in a third group, containing space wizards (or something) who’ve been working on a completely separate thing. 

I pointed out that you need to keep in mind that Cold Steel I is the start of a larger story in order to enjoy it. In Cold Steel II, you need to keep in mind that it’s a continuation of a larger story. As a result, there are a lot of reused assets. While the world is big enough that you do get to visit areas that have only been mentioned, there are times where you return to old places. It really plays on your nostalgia bug, like at the start of chapter one, which has you go through a previous Field Study dungeon backwards.

Unfortunately, playing this game has kind of broken my immersion when it comes to Erebonia itself. Cold Steel I was split into multiple, self-contained areas, connected by long train rides. This was an effective way to make you use your imagination, and imagine the grandiose scope of the world. However, in Cold Steel II, you end up taking the roads that connect various areas in foot… and this is where the immersion breaks. It’s as soon as you set foot into Trista Highway for the first time that it’s made apparent; those train rides that took hours of in-game time were the alternative to roads that took minutes to traverse. It’s a nitpick, I know, but Erebonia definitely feels less Tolkienian since the world feels so much smaller now.

As far as the narrative is concerned, it’s actually… kind of lacking for a direct continuation, especially after an ending like Cold Steel I. Similar to how the first game’s purpose is to acquaint us with the world of Erebonia and all who inhabit it, Cold Steel II starts by reacquainting us with it, and seeing how much has changed as a result of the war. But even after the point where the story is supposed to ramp up, most of the game boils down to reclaiming areas from the first game, and gaining more support. It’s satisfying to do, but you don’t learn much about the core narrative, at least not until around the 75% point of the game, when it vomits information at you like any JRPG would.

The biggest issue with the narrative is that it never ends. After you defeat what is very much intended to be the final boss (which took me two and a half hours by itself because there’s, like, five phases), you end up playing a side section that serves no purpose other than to get players interested in another franchise set within the same universe (which, I’ll admit, was pretty darn effective, even if those games aren’t released in the U.S.). And then, you get an entire in-game day’s worth of content to do. AND AFTER THAT, the true final dungeon appears for no discernible reason. It got so annoying. The issue is that this game hypes itself up to be the conclusion of Cold Steel, and while it does a pretty good job at conveying that on an emotional level, it is very watered down by the known presence of two more games.

Same Faces… Plus a Few New Ones

Fortunately, there’s a surprising amount of stuff to learn from the characters. We get closer looks at characters like Claire and Sharon, and even deeper looks at the students of Class VII. I love them even more than I did before. To think that I brushed most of them off as bland anime tropes at first… that’s character development at its finest. I’ve grown so attached to them, that I even gave some of them nicknames, such as “Reany-Beany” and “Useless Jusis” (even though the latter is my favorite of the supporting male characters).

We also get more development on the antagonists, such as Crow. Plus, there are some interesting new antagonists with quirky personalities, such as the cocky yet socially awkward Duvalie, and the sleepy McBurn. Unfortunately, Duke Cayenne proves to be a pretty one-dimensional villain for the post part.

Audiovisuals

Unsurprisingly, Cold Steel II‘s graphics aren’t too different from the first game. I shouldn’t have expected them to be since it’s both the same system and the same world, but I still had to mention it. But one thing I didn’t acknowledge in my review of the first game is that a lot of the animations for attacks, especially S-Crafts, have aged very well. They look soooooooo animeeeeeee!

The soundtrack is also more-or-less the same. A lot of tracks are reused, but there are also some new, updated battle themes. Unfortunately, a lot of tracks overstay their welcome. One bad example is that there’s a point where you tackle four dungeons in quick succession, and music for all of them is some really grating opera. Furthermore, the previous game’s issue of “having the dungeon theme play over the battle theme because it’s INTENSE” comes back even more in this game. And similar to the other example, those themes get reused as well.

Gameplay (Intro)

For the gameplay section, I will still split it into Daily Life and Deadly Life. But like I said before, I will go over mechanics as if you’re already familiar with the first game. I will also bring up the fact that this version of the game, Relentless Edition, SPOILS you. First off, the amazing Turbo Mode feature is still present. Second off, you get WAY more items in the DLC than last time, including 99 U-Materials. 

Before we start, I must also bring up the other important reason to play Cold Steel I first. When starting a new game of Cold Steel II, you will be asked if you want to load Clear Save Data from Trails I on your system. Doing this will give you items based on Rean’s previous Academy Rank, and change dialogue based on various accomplishments, as well as the person you chose to dance with at the end of Cold Steel I (G.G. for anyone who chose Crow). It felt really satisfying to have my actions acknowledged, and it helped maintain a sense of continuity.

Daily Life

JRPGs Always Need an Airship

So, the first question I- and probably a lot of people asked- going into Cold Steel II was, “Without Thors, how’re we gonna have the same school mechanics?” Well, the answer is a minor spoiler, and one that is spoiled in the game’s intro at that. After a certain point, your main base of operations is on the Courageous.

But the problem with the Courageous is that it needs some help. Fortunately, scattered throughout the world are your fellow peers from Thors. Whenever you see them, it is encouraged to recruit them to the ship, as many of them unlock new facilities. Most of these are carry-over mechanics from Cold Steel I, so I will only discuss new things here.

For starters, there’s new training facilities. These are basically your Practical Exams from Cold Steel I, except you can do them whenever. They are split into Melee, Range, and Arts, where you are locked into using characters who are built around those fighting styles. The biggest issue with them (other than how stupid hard they get) is that you don’t get to prep anyone before the fight itself like you can in the first game. Furthermore, you don’t get to see the conditions until the battle starts, which can be annoying.

There’s also the new Triple Tri- I mean- Blade II. This game plays like the first one, but with meaner trap cards: Blast and Force. Blast Cards allow you to destroy a card in your opponent’s hand (but you can’t look at it), and Force Cards double your total. Even with how game-breaking these new cards are, I still lost 95% of the time because I suck. 

Once you recruit Munk, you are able to bribe him to apply to radio contests on your behalf. There’s a cheap one where you win a modest prize, and a high-risk, high-rewards one. The results come in after five battles (excluding the training facilities in the Courageous), so make sure you use it before you go out into a combat area.

“Hey, Rean! Have you finished those errands?”

Quests are pretty much unchanged, except with the added feature of reporting manually by Skyping Olivert. And despite the hard times, people can afford to pay up. In addition to the usual rewards for completing a quest, you get a monetary donation for reporting it. There are still hidden quests, and they are sneakier than ever. Some require you to have or not have certain people in your party (but I have no idea if the game indicates it to you because I was always lucky enough to already have met the conditions).

But unlike the first game, you cannot miss ANY quests if you want to max out your Academy Rank. Last time, I missed three and still barely got it. But now, even after doing every quest (with the trophy to confirm it), I ended the game with only ONE excess AP. There is only a sliver of leeway, as I didn’t get all S-Ranks despite getting all quests. I guess some of them had more favorable outcomes and I didn’t realize it. Fortunately, due to the game’s circumstances, there are no exams this time! Yay!

You Never Have Enough Sepith in This Game

One thing I noticed in Cold Steel II was that everyone’s Arcus slots are still fully opened. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. In this game, you spend Sepith to UPGRADE your slots, and I blew through most of my DLC Sepith just to be barely close to maxing out one character. If you don’t do this, you can’t equip rare quartz. It’s annoying, but they had to change it up somehow. As a side note, you eventually get the ability to create EX Orbs, which are equipped to Valimar to boost its stats.

Wow, this game has an actual overworld!

The most standout improvement in Cold Steel II is the ability to go to older areas at will. The Courageous makes it really easy to do so, and you can leave from almost any point on the map. There are times where you will be asked for specific party members, but fortunately, summoning the Courageous from the overworld allows you to reorganize your team without having to leave and come back.

So, what did Cold Steel II do to replace the Old Schoolhouse? Peppered throughout the world are these strange shrines. Gameplay-wise, they’re the same as the Old Schoolhouse; do the floor, beat the boss. You can’t complete them at first, but you obtain bonus AP for knocking out what you can early on (plus they got good loot in them).

The whole Courageous thing is the best and worst aspect of the game. It does open up a lot stuff, and adds much variety when you’re running errands for people. One thing I noticed is that there aren’t as many hidden quests once you obtain the Courageous (in fact, I only had one in Act 2 Part 4 and one in the Final Act), which is nice. However, this new level of accessibility makes it so that you can get said missable items out of sequence. And it’s not based on the order that the areas come up in the story; for example, a single shop can have both the first recipe and last book chapter of that particular time bracket. As a result, I think I spent even more time repeatedly talking to the same NPCs over and over again than I did last time.

Saving the World? Nah, I’d Rather Fish and Cook

Cooking and fishing have both been buffed since last time. While fishing is mechanically unchanged, fishing spots get marked on the map after being used once, which is nice. And due to the ability to travel to older areas, you get a lot more respawning fishing spots that you can use. Unfortunately, this also means completing the fishing is a nightmare. In Cold Steel I, all fish eventually end up in Trista. However, that’s not the case here. Furthermore, the fishing locations don’t respawn as quickly as they should, meaning that you’ll need more groundbait than ever (or save-scumming) if you want to get all the fish… on top of having to try each and every location without knowing which one has a fish you missed. In fact, I resorted to looking up the fish just to save time. But hey, at least recipes are only cooked by one character now, which simplifies the process of getting a specific type of dish.

Nakama Power, the Most Important Superpower in Any Anime

Bonding Events are much more important in this game. While there are some Bonding Events early on, the bulk of them take place on Stopover Days that occur at the end of a chapter once you obtain the Courageous. Unlike the first game, EVERY party member, as well as Alfin and Towa, are available to spend time with. While you get more Bonding Points than last time, it’s not enough to make it easier to decide. “We’ll, it’s not gonna kill me if I don’t know EVERYTHING about EVERYBODY,” you think. We’ll, you might just want to save-scum to view every event, because Bonding Events have a new and trollish effect. Some SPECIFIC events will allow a character to learn new abilities earlier than they would’ve from levelling up, which is kind of annoying. I only saw one of these particular events, and the game doesn’t even tell you about them in the first place.

There’s also the case of Final Bonding Events. These are exclusive scenes between Rean and assorted characters towards the end of the game. In order to unlock a character’s Final Bonding Event, you must get their link level to its second-highest level, which is now six out of seven (technically, it only needs to be up to five and a half or so since finishing Act 2 boosts everyone’s links by 1000), as well as fulfill specific other conditions. You can also have Towa and Alfin in line for this, but you will need to do every single Bonding Event with them in order to be able to satisfy the conditions with them. Fortunately, the game will tell you when you have an opportunity to satisfy one of said conditions, which is something much appreciated that most JRPGs don’t bother doing. Also, once you recruit Beryl, you can use her services to confirm with whom you have met the conditions for. Unfortunately, when the time comes, you can only do one per playthrough, so save-scumming at that point is essential. It is also impossible to meet the conditions with everyone at once. This means that you will have to play through again in New Game+ to see everything (which you would’ve had to do anyway to complete the character notebook entries).

What is this, Sonic Adventure 1?

A new mechanic is snowboarding. Throughout the story, you unlock new courses to snowboard in. Beating these gets you great prizes, but like in any videogame, it gets really difficult late on.  In addition to snowboards, you also get to ride Angelica’s bike. It can be used almost anywhere and greatly makes up for the lack of fast travel points on highways.

Deadly Life

A Steep Learning Curve Just got Even Steeper

Here’s the final reason as to why Cold Steel II does not like newcomers: All the combat mechanics learned over the course of more than half of Cold Steel I… is taught all at once during the Prologue. So seriously… if you’re somehow still reading this and not familiar with the series. FOR THE LOVE OF AIDIOS, PLAY COLD STEEL I

For returning players, this brings some immediate positives. In Cold Steel II, every character has all their Craft and S-Craft from the first game. Your Link levels are also higher at the start, with Rean starting at Link Level 2 with everyone. This at least makes it easier for returning players to get reacclimated to the game.

A new mechanic is Overdrive. Use this between a pair of Linked characters to give them a free heal, and a set of three free attack turns with no delay. This also guarantees Unbalancing. The gauge fills by doing things in battle, but it fills up much faster based on your tactical bonuses at the end of a battle. Unfortunately, only people paired with Rean can do it…

…at first. New to Cold Steel II are Trial Chests. These chests make a set pair of party members fight a tough battle. But as a reward, you get great items, a heap of Link XP for that pair, and unlock the ability for them to use Overdrive together. It’s a great way for characters that aren’t Rean to get large amounts of Link XP, since the bonding events from Cold Steel I kinda threw off the balance of everyone’s link levels (but it still ends up being way off-balanced).

Mech Battles Before Xenoblade X Made it Cool

My biggest concern when it came to combat was how Cold Steel II would expand on the Divine Knight (a.k.a. mech) battles. Introduced during the final boss of Cold Steel I, mech battles felt very stressful and iffy. Basically, mech battles were a game of rock-paper-scissors, where you had to attack a section of the target that was weak- the head, the body, or the arms. Attacking a weak point resulted in a crit, which allowed you to press X for an immediate Follow-up, and after obtaining three Bravery Points, you could use a powerful Finisher (basically an S-Craft). The catch is that the weakness changed based on the enemy’s stance, which resulted in having to memorize a lot of combinations. Attacking the wrong spot could result in getting the attack blocked, or worse, evaded. This, as always, gives enemies the chance to counter. You also couldn’t Impede attacks that enemies were charging up last time, even if you inflicted a crit, so you were basically screwed.

Fortunately, Cold Steel II greatly fixes some of these issues. The game adds a Defend command, which allows you to greatly reduce damage and recover a small chunk of HP. But one of the best additions by far is the fact they show the Unbalance Efficacy of each piece- in each stance- after you attack it once. THANK YOU.

Although Rean is on his own in mech battles, his buddies can at least help with EX Arts. Basically, you have another character who takes their own turn in the fights. When it’s their turn, you can have them cast some EX Arts, the nature of which are determined by the person. This greatly fleshes out the mech battles, plus every person has a charge function to restore Valimar’s EP (which doesn’t really justify the parts of the game where you wait for him to recharge…). You also have a Unity Attack that you can do with five Bravery Points.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

Rean also gets some significant boosts in this game. After a while, he is able to summon Valimar to regular battles for three turns, and is able to activate his Super Saiyan form at will. These can be very useful in some super-tough battles, especially if you play it on Nightmare difficulty.

One new feature is the optional bosses, the Cryptids. These enemies appear throughout the world after certain points in the story. Defeating them nets you a rare quartz containing a Lost Art. These Arts are really powerful, but consume all of a character’s EP. Fortunately, they are affected by the Zero-Arts turn bonus, which can seriously save your bum. I didn’t use them too often, but I imagine they are essential in Hard and Nightmare difficulties.

Either This Game is Hard… or I Suck

If it wasn’t obvious enough that this game alienates newcomers, they also make it much harder than Cold Steel I. I died way more often than before, and in this game I actually knew what I was doing. They really expect you to have mastered the turn order system, along with all the other mechanics, ‘cuz the kid gloves are off this time! The game also introduces a rare case of enemy attacks that ignore and remove all buffs, and some of these attacks happen to be their strongest attack. The Zeram Capsule + Moebius setup I utilized in the last game made its final dungeon a joke, but that same setup was a necessity in this game. If I hadn’t gotten forty of them as DLC, I would’ve been sunk.

Fortunately, I learned some important things about the series that I didn’t know last time. Stat changes do stack in Cold Steel, which I honestly should’ve noticed before. Also, Evasion is a broken stat in this series, especially if you give your most dodgy character (preferably Fie) the Wrath Quartz, which makes all counterattacks crit. I also had her paired with the Master Quartz, Mirage, which adds a good chance of evading magic. This game was my first time trying an Evasion build on a character; I’ve always prioritized defense in JRPGs in the past. Furthermore, Speed is immensely important, as it reduces characters’ Delay between turns, which again, is something I should’ve known last time.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Trails of Cold Steel II is a massive improvement over the first game in almost every way (except strictness, and knowing when to roll credits). At this point, I am hooked on this story and I fully intend to see it to its end (and pray that I get the True Ending of the fourth game). However, I am concerned about the third game. Based on the one thing I know about it, it feels like it will be a step backward for the series. Well, with my job opened back up, you won’t know how I feel about it for a while. Anyways, as far as recommendations for Trails of Cold Steel is concerned, I think it’s definitely worth giving a shot, even if you are uncomfortable with missing things. The game is good at letting you know when you’re at a cut-off point, making it a lot less stressful than most JRPGs.