Crystal Project: An Unexpected Marriage of Hollow Knight and Final Fantasy V

I got a long story with this Crystal Project. Basically, I haven’t actually beaten it. I have played the vast majority of it, though; enough that I feel like I can write a final piece on it (also I’m a filthy casual so it’s not like I follow the standards of the gaming community anyway). Also, I really want to talk about it, but if I try to push myself to grind out the rest of it, I might end up hating it, because some of the side stuff in the game is utter BS. I might not even finish it at all because the kind of experiences I want in games is starting to change (which is my fancy way of saying I suck). So… yeah, here’s this mess of a review of a game I’ve only done about 75% of.

In Crystal Project, you and your fully customizable party find themselves in the land of Sequoia, looking for adventure, and Crystals that give you new jobs. This game fully embraces the core spirit of JRPGs of old, and as such, the story is almost non-existent.

Before getting into the gameplay, let’s look at Sequoia first. It doesn’t seem like much just from the game’s screenshots, but I found myself growing attached to the quaint and vibrant voxel-art style. It’s like Minecraft, but cozier. The character designs are a bit lifeless, but that’s probably because it REALLY wants to have the old-school vibes, including how sprites tended to not be very expressive back then. The soundtrack is also really good, plus the game shows the name of each song and credits its composer on the HUD whenever you enter a different area (this doesn’t happen for battle themes, though).

What might attract an RPG-aficionado to Crystal Project is its Elder Scrolls-like sandbox structure. You are thrown into the game with no sense of direction, and no motive other than the pure desire to explore the world. The game is almost self-aware of this during what little plot the game actually has. In any case, the world is fully non-linear. Not only that, but it’s actually a metroidvania. This is one of the things that stands out about Crystal Project, and lemme tell you, exploring Sequoia is its own reward, and that alone makes the game worth buying. Combining the design philosophy of metroidvanias in a fully 3D space is truly something. You never know when an unassuming little alcove will lead to a whole new part of the world (seriously, that happens a lot)!

The other standout feature is the game’s platforming aspect. There are no invisible walls; just geometry. And most of said geometry can be stood upon, including opened treasure chests, NPCs, and light fixtures. If you’ve played Crosscode, then Crystal Project makes a good competitor in this department. 

Of course, just because it’s a competitor doesn’t mean it’ll win. While the platforming in Crystal Project is fun to figure out, there aren’t many instances of opening easy shortcuts back up. If you fall at any time, you more-than-likely have to walk all the way back to where you were…

Which brings us to one of the biggest turn-offs in Crystal Project: limited fast travel. Like many metroidvanias, you’re going to be backtracking a LOT. There are plenty of fast travel points scattered throughout the world, but only one can be assigned as active at a time (unless you enable the setting to activate three at a time), along with any number of Shrines that you find throughout the world. If there’s any pro-tips I can give, it’s to establish a warp point as high up as possible; no matter how far something is horizontally, descending is always faster than ascending. You will be able to earn various mounts, many of which allow for a LOT of developer-intended sequence breaking throughout the overworld.

What’s worse is that you can’t heal directly from the fast travel points themselves; you gotta find an inn or other source of healing. Fortunately, this can be offset with consumable items. I know what you’re thinking: “I’m not going to use consumables except on the final boss! But since I made such a habit of not using them, I forgot to use them on the final boss!” Well, too bad. With such limited means of recovery, you gotta do it. Fortunately, enemies universally tend to drop basic healing items very often for this exact purpose. 

Another big caveat is the map. While the map itself is great, getting the maps of each area is not. Again, think of it as a metroidvania; you gotta earn the map. My advice is to simply explore, and talk to any NPCs you see; one might be hoarding a map or two to themselves.

Combat is nothing new, yet it feels fresh at the same time. Like in classic JRPGs, you have unlockable jobs. Level up those jobs, and carry those skills over by assigning it as a sub-job while you work on something else. Learn passive skills to equip your characters to mix and match many types of playstyles. Battles are your basic turn-bases format. However, you get to see a LOT more of the action than in perhaps any RPG ever. Crystal Project allows you to see your stats, enemy stats, what attack an enemy will do, how much damage it’ll do, how much damage you’ll do; literally every parameter that is calculated during an RPG battle. This gives combat a fun puzzle element that is truly unique to the genre. And most importantly… Bosses are susceptible to status ailments! This really showcases the focus on strategy in Crystal Project.

Difficulty-wise… holy crap this game is tough. Even if you had the fundamental knowledge of turned-based RPGs—which you’re definitely expected to have—there are a lot of intricate systems, such as how aggro works. Also, an ability as basic as using consumable items in battle is restricted to a specific job. But even when you get that job—and start finding pouches to increase inventory space—Crystal Project can still shred you. Although mobs in the overworld are color-coded to indicate their danger level, I’ve gotten destroyed many times by enemies that the game said I was on par with. There really is no advice but to master the system as soon as possible. It doesn’t hurt to grind either; money is quite necessary, after all. 

One positive is that the dev of Crystal Project doesn’t hate gamers like how it feels with most indie games that try to be Dark Souls (which feels like at least 90% of them to be honest). The options menu contains customizable assists that make the game easier, and you’re not shamed for using them. You can increase the amount of XP, job points, and money you earn to save on grinding, for starters. You can also skip the game’s notoriously BS minigames that you need to win a lot in order to get everything (although I think you’ll be relying on RNG to win if you do that), and increase the maximum level cap, which I only feel would only be necessary for the superbosses.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 9/10

Crystal Project can definitely be called unbalanced and unfair, but it’s still a very novel subversion of JRPG tropes, and one of the most underrated games of the year. I will probably use the minigame skip and increased level capacity as I work toward finishing it… much to the ire of the invisible people on the Internet. Anyway, you’ve been warned as to how brutally difficult it is. Proceed with caution (unless you’re a real gamer, in which case you can probably beat it with no assists).

Core Keeper (Early Access): This Game Could be the Next Big Timesink

Playing games in Early Access is a natural risk. What’s even riskier is playing a game in Early Access as soon as it drops; in its buggiest, most unbalanced, infantile state possible. But you know what… I’m feeling risky. Besides, I was planning to do this when Forever Skies dropped on Steam, so I might as well get used to it. Let’s see if Core Keeper has any potential to be a really great game.

In Core Keeper, you end up getting teleported into a sprawling cave, with a mysterious object at its center. With nothing better to do, your goal is to power it up and see what it does. 

Like Grounded and Minecraft, that’s all there is to the story of Core Keeper; what matters is the gameplay. Right off the bat, the game is more like the latter than the former, because it’s set in a procedurally generated world. No two save files are exactly alike, allowing for a lot of replay value. However, this means you can have bad luck finding the biome that you want. 

Before we go into what biomes you want, let’s discuss the actual gameplay. If you’ve played Minecraft or Terraria, then Core Keeper will be easy to jump right into. And if you haven’t played them, then prepare to swim in the deep end with no floaties. There is next to no tutorial about how anything works, which might be a nice change of pace for “true gamers,” but a hindrance to others. 

Fortunately, the mechanics are simple and follow expectations for this kind of game. Ores can be smelted, seeds can be planted, food can be cooked, and equipment can be forged and repaired. As you unlock better workbenches, you’ll be able to make potions, railways for fast travel, and more.

The problem is getting there. Every game like this has an early-game hurdle in one way or another, either because you need to go to a place where the enemies are really strong for the point you’re at, or because an essential resource is scarce in the areas you’re realistically capable of handling. Core Keeper‘s case is the latter. Tin is one of the most important resources in the game, because it is needed to craft a Tin Workbench that unlocks most of the essential mechanics of the game… which also need tin to craft. If you can’t find the specific biome it’s common in, you’ll be hoping RNG spawned enough wooden crates containing it. If you think that’s stupid, then this type of game is not for you. The big hurdle for me personally is scarlet—which I still have yet to find. Both tin and iron were in biomes adjacent to the starting area, but I’ve done a lot of exploring and still haven’t found any scarlet ore. 

In any case, I’m not particularly fond of ore distribution. It’s nice that hidden ores have a sparkly effect to push you in a general direction, but having them tied to specific biomes feels kind of bleh to me. Technically, it’s better because that means less pockets of your inventory will be taken up by several varieties of items. I dunno… maybe I’m just being picky.

As if the game isn’t grindy enough, it has the Quest 64 skill system. In case you have never heard of that game, here’s what it boils down to: you level attributes by using those attributes… a lot. Core Keeper gets even grindier because you need to level up an attribute five times to get ONE point to invest into that attribute’s skill tree. The upgrades are worth it; however, it seems that there are finite attribute level-ups, which is also kind of crappy. Pick your upgrades wisely.

Also, the game’s Early Access-ness REALLY shows. While there’s a lot of fully-fleshed mechanics, it’s very… archaic. For example, everything you use can ONLY be used on the quick select; if you want to plant seeds, they gotta be in quick select, and so does your watering can if you want to water them. Also, crafting of any kind requires items to be on-hand; no pulling from storage. I’m going to hope that they intend to add the necessary quality-of-life features in future patches. Another thing I hope is rebalanced is durability. The armor durability seems manageable enough, but I feel like it’s not generous enough with tools. I have the third tier of pickaxe and it loses durability VERY fast for what it is; in most games like this, the third tier is the first point where you don’t have to worry about durability too much.

Difficulty-wise, Core Keeper is actually about as punishing as Terraria or Minecraft. Even with good armor, mobs can end you as quickly as they respawn. The bosses are very tough; in fact, I almost died at the first one, and I have no idea how you’re supposed to go about fighting the giant worm. There are also situations where a horde of enemies can go out of their way to hunt you down from well off-screen. As obnoxious as that sounds, the worst ones are the larva enemies simply because they destroy items such as torches; you’ll need to rely on glow buffs to explore those areas with any sense of visibility. 

Fortunately, Core Keeper is very generous compared to other games of its kind. If you die, your stuff will still remain in that location, but it’s ONLY the stuff that’s NOT on your quick-select. Because of this, you’ll still have your armor and tools, which mitigates those annoying situations where you can soft-lock yourself out of getting important equipment back because you had to go into dangerous territory naked while the mobs that killed you camp your corpse. Please don’t change this, Core Keeper people!

Sadly, the game oozes the intention to play with multiple people. While the combat seems balanced enough, there is an almost excessive amount of stuff to do. From exploring, to expanding your main base, to building tracks for fast travel… this will easily go beyond a hundred hours for a solo player, and whether or not that’s a worthy timesink will be entirely up to you. With that being said… 

~~~~~

Current Verdict: 8.5/10

Core Keeper has potential to be a really great, and addicting, game. It’ll also be a lot of bang for your buck, especially if you go solo! However, it doesn’t really do anything new. I admit that, for me, it’s currently just scratching an itch while I wait on Forever Skies, and further updates for Grounded. I’ll continue to slowly work toward beating every boss to power up the core, but there’s no guarantee I’ll accomplish that. They’re going to need to roll out quality-of-life updates in order to keep my interest.

Pokémon Black & White 2: Ten Years Later, Still One of the Series’ Best Main Installments (A Retrospective)

I’ve been playing Pokémon for a while (*understatement*). My first game was Pokémon Platinum (which I certifiably sucked at). But as good as that game is, it wasn’t until Pokémon Black and White 2 that I started to become a devout Pokémon fan. I know that people like the first Black and White better, but I definitely prefer Black and White 2 for a number of reasons. Since these games actually turn ten this year, I might as well do a retrospective on them. I have played through this game several times since I first got it in 2012, but this playthrough is the first time in at least one and a half years. I always had a copy of Black 2 so I wouldn’t have to nuke my original White 2 file. But you know what… I think it’s poetic to nuke that file now, just to showcase how much I’ve changed as a person.

When it comes to the second installment of a given generation, it’s usually a remake of the first with new content. Not here. Black and White 2 are—to this day—the only main game sequels. They take place chronologically after the events of the first Black and White. Everything starts off nice and campy, but the return of a new—and eviller—Team Plasma is afoot. Time to once again beat up criminals with our pet animals!

Pokémon Black and White are generally considered the best installments in terms of story. And, well, yeah… I can’t refute that. It’s a rare time where one of the main antagonists really builds a relationship with the player, and the ethics of Pokémon training are put into question. This time, it’s pretty standard. The new Team Plasma, led by the one-dimensionally evil Ghetsis, is bent on world domination. But instead of beating around the bush and manipulating the emotionally insecure N by sheltering him and crap, he just magically has the post-game Legendary from the previous game, Kyurem, and shoots ice lasers at cities.

So yeah, it really does stink. It’s not bad, but it’s a start to the wildly varying quality of Pokémon plots moving forward. There really was no one in this series quite like N, or the rivals from the previous Black and White. The gym leaders also lose the presence that they had before. You don’t really get to know them at all outside the gym, and there isn’t that awesome scene where they fight Team Plasma together. That scene with Elesa isn’t here either (and for the record, it’s not THAT great of a scene, but that’s probably because I’m an emotionless, un-altruistic monkeybutt). They also add Marlon, a gym leader with a very weird sense of neutrality, that ends up not being explored at all.

While we’re on the subject of characters, I might as well bring up the whole cast. The main character is, well, unchanged, but that’s not a surprise given their nature. Your rival is basically the Sinnoh rival, but instead of being constantly happy, he’s constantly angry. He gets less angry later, but I couldn’t—to this day—tell what changes him. Maybe it’s the power of Pokémon? 

Team Plasma has gotten a downgrade, but it at least introduced one of my favorite characters in Pokémon: Colress. He’s a scientist who’s as enigmatic as his hair. He’s also one of those neutral characters who will only side with knowledge, and that means he actually respects you as a person.

The Pokémon League isn’t too great either, and that’s for both games (fun fact: I never found the League members to be particularly great until Gen 7). As per usual, you NEVER see them until the actual fights (with the exception of a brief encounter with Marshal in the sequels). It’s a shame, because this League has some of the cooler designs. One of them is actually someone from the Battle Frontier in Sinnoh. 

Since the gameplay of Pokémon is expected to be understood when reading a spoiler-filled retrospective, let alone a review, of one of its main installments (also, it takes a while to explain it), the gameplay section will moreso be an evaluation of the games’ structure, as well as the capabilities of the Pokémon introduced during this generation. And the first thing to bring up is that Black and White 2 starts SLOW. It’s still faster than most games, but it doesn’t feel that way compared to the “superior” first games, where you get the starters IMMEDIATELY. Also, as the last game where the starters don’t have their first stab move immediately, it becomes an even harder sell. The first gym, being Normal-Type, is uncharacteristically difficult no matter which starter you pick. The only good way to do it is to find Riolu in Floccesy Ranch, and it happens to be a rare spawn. The starters of Unova are all more geared to defense and setup, making it a button-mashing game at the beginning, even with their stab moves. Oh, and even when you beat the first gym, you are forced to do the first segment of PokéStar Studios, which is painfully tedious (and an area that I—for the sake of this review—gave an honest college try to complete for the first time in my life). 

In fact, the definition of “slow burn” doesn’t just describe these games, but most Unovan Pokémon. A lot of level-up evolutions do not trigger until super-late into the story, some of which are even post-game at the earliest. This problem isn’t as bad in Black and White 2, since levels are much higher by the Pokémon league. One of the most notorious examples is Unova’s pseudo-Legendary: Hydreigon, evolving from Zweilous at LEVEL 64. Even with the better level scaling in the sequels, you will still not be getting this thing through level up until the post-game, or just before the Pokémon League at the earliest. The only way to straight-up catch it before the Pokémon League is for the infinitesimally small odds of a dust cloud in Victory Road spawning it. Of course, if you can get it, it’s a freaking BEAST. Hydreigon was at its prime in Gen 5, before the Fairy-Type gave it a nasty quad-weakness. 

Another Unovan powerhouse is one of its Fossil Pokémon: Archeops. Insane Attack and Speed, but an ability that hampers Attack and Special Attack if its HP goes below half. To be honest, it’s almost always going to go first in battle, and if its opponent survives and attacks, and Defeatist activates from the hit, the opponent should have low enough HP for the next attack to finish it off. And since Defeatist doesn’t lower Speed, Archeops will still go first and deliver the finishing blow. It also evolves from Archen at a very reasonable Level 37. Archeops is still one of the most powerful physical sweepers, but like with Hydreigon, it was also at its prime in Gen 5 thanks to the unique Gem items. These Gems each represent a Pokémon Type, and they get consumed as held items to boost their respective type of move once. When using the move Acrobatics, and consuming a Flying Gem, the game counts that as not holding an item. Thus, Archeops can benefit from the Flying-Type damage bonus as well as the 110 base power from not having an item when using the move. I wanted to use its defensive cousin, Carracosta, for the first time, but the Fossil guy isn’t in Relic Castle in the sequels. In fact, Fossils aren’t available until the post-game!

Unfortunately, not every Unovan Pokémon is as great as they could be. One example is Garbodor, who’s still a hard sell even to this day. It evolves at a reasonable level, is a great tank, with an equally great physical attack stat. The rub is that it doesn’t learn a single physical stab move through level up. Scratch that, it doesn’t learn a single physical stab move, period… with the exception of Gunk Shot. It has a respectable Special Attack stat, but it’s the principle of the thing. 

Another great Pokémon that can be handicapped is Golurk. It’s all around a great physical Ghost-Type, with a cool design and lore to boot. The thing actually has rocket feet, which is a detail that’s acknowledged by allowing it to learn Fly despite not being a Flying-Type. The problem with it is that it can either have the great ability Iron Fist—perfect for its punch-based movepool—or Klutz… an objectively awful Ability that prevents held item use. There is nothing more heartbreaking in Pokémon than having a Pokémon with the best possible nature, but not the preferred Ability. Sadly, due to Black and White 2’s structure, the earliest opportunity to get it is Victory Road.

On a better note, another great Pokémon is Bisharp. It hits like a truck, and is very scary to deal with thanks to its Defiant Ability; any stat reduction will be countered with a free +2 Attack buff. On the other side of the coin is one of Unova’s best special sweepers: Chandelure. Its awesome design isn’t for show; it hurts, plus it can learn Energy Ball to counter Water-Types.

Two more interesting Pokémon that I have never used and, sadly, can never use are Escavalier and Accelgor. They are evolutions of Shelmet and Kerrablast, obtained by trading one with the other (hence my lack of having them since I don’t have friends). Escavalier has the risky Bug-Steel typing, with great physical Defense to boot. On the flipside is the glassy Special sweeper, Accelgor. It has next to no defenses, but has unsurpassed Speed, moreso than Archeops. 

Unova also has two version exclusive birds: Ruflett and Vullaby, which evolve into Braviary and Mandibuzz respectively. Like most Unovan Pokémon, they take forever to evolve, and you can’t even encounter them until Victory Road. Fortunately, the sequels have a static encounter with the evolved form very early on, plus that encounter has its Hidden Ability. Fun fact: Braviary with Defiant is a good thing.

I suppose I should talk about the starters, right? Like I said before, Emboar, Samurott, and Serperior are some of the chunkier starters in the series. Emboar is the most brute force of them all. It learns Flame Charge very early on, and its guaranteed Speed buff is a great setup for sweeping. Samurott is the most well-rounded, and learns some unexpectedly great moves like Revenge, and an assortment of powerful Bug-Type moves. Serperior has powerful Grass-Type moves and the great setup move of Coil to boost its Attack, Defense, and Accuracy. Unfortunately, it has the weakest move pool, only able to learn Grass and Normal-Type moves. It’ll serve you well against pretty much anything except a Steel-Type… well, once it gets Leaf Blade.

If you didn’t think this game had any more tanks, don’t worry; there are more. Druddigon and Ferrothorn are particularly rude, because they both have an Ability that inflicts contact damage on opponents. And like with any Pokémon with those Abilities, the effect stacks with the Rocky Helmet equipped. Just be wary with Ferrothorn; being a Grass-Steel physical wall, one good special Fire-Type move will end it.

Last but not least are the Legendaries. The main two, Zekrom and Reshiram are—to my knowledge—the first and only plot-relevant Legendaries who cannot be caught until the post-game (at least in the sequels; in the originals, you catch your boxart Legendary right before the final boss). They are all around great Pokémon, bolstering strong attack and bulk. Kyurem, who’s also respectably strong by itself, is able to fuse with either of Zekrom or Reshiram. This replaces its signature move with a powerful two-turn attack that can inflict Paralysis and Burn respectively.

There are also the Swords of Justice, who are notably all obtainable before the post-game. They have VERY powerful attacks, but the best one defensively is Cobalion. It’s Steel-Fighting, which is awesome before Gen 6 nerfs Steel. There are also the Mythical Pokémon Victinni, Meloetta, Genesect, and Keldeo. Unfortunately, since those are Mystery Gifts that need to be obtained through an event during a specific time, I have only ever obtained Genesect and Meloetta. Genesect is basically a watered-down Arceus; a cool-looking Bug-Steel Type whose signature move changes based on the type of a hold item called a Drive that it holds (and I’ve only ever been able to find one anyway). Meloetta is a special attacker that alternates between Normal-Psychic and Normal-Fighting through use of its signature move.

Let’s get back to the actual structure of the game. Unova was already a very chunky region in the first game, but Black and White 2 has a LOT more. A LOT MORE. It has a whole bunch of new areas, and a much wider variety of Pokémon than in the previous venture (even if the Unova-only Pokémon idea was pretty fun in Black and White 1, and much appreciated compared to the more recent games where newer Pokémon tend to be rare). However, there wasn’t exactly much I didn’t remember, since I—you know—remember so much from loving these games to death.

When it comes to starting in earnest, I’d say that Black and White 2 opens up after the third gym. Route 4 is when you start getting a lot of interesting Pokémon, and get to explore a pretty big area with the Desert Resort. Unfortunately, there is some padding even still. While you aren’t forced to do the tutorial for the musical place (which… we’ll get to later), you are forced to do the Pokémon World Tournament after the fifth gym (in addition to the aforementioned PokéStar Studios). I don’t know if you have to win to advance, but it comes down to already knowing what your opponents have (fortunately, they’re always the same). There’s also a very late point in the game where you have to fight someone with four Roggenrolas. Since this is before they could have Weak Armor… you have to fight four Roggenrolas with STURDY. It’s stupid and pretty much impossible to lose; it’s just there to be annoying.

So, we’ve gone over a number of side areas with unique mechanics. Well, there’s still more. One of my favorites was always Join Avenue. Every day, you’d boot up the game and talk to NPCs walking along the street, where you’d either have them open a shop or recommend them to an already opened shop. This place sucked so much of my life away ten years ago, and it’s worth it. The raffle place has a Master Ball for the grand prize, and I—to this day—have never obtained it (if Chugga ever plays these games for his channel, he will probably get it very easily). The antique shop is a great place to obtain a lot of random and useful items (get ready to have a new hate for Hard Stones). There are also places to raise base stats, friendliness, and EVs. 

Full transparency here: I did some of these side mechanics in my copy of Black 2, since I already had grinded up some other Pokémon for post-game stuff. PokéStar Studios… I gave it half an hour before I gave up on it (yes, that’s more than I ever gave it). I like it, but even when watching Twitch in the background, I found it emotionally draining and mechanically stupid. In PokéStar Studios, you choose one out of a staggering number of movies to shoot. You are provided rental Pokémon and a script to follow. You generally want to follow the script… but the problem is that you’re actually encouraged to find a very obtuse and specific combination of deviations to make something more avant garde. Since Bulbapedia, the most trustworthy source of Pokémon info on the Internet, didn’t have a guide for this to my knowledge, I gave up pretty quickly. As much as I love the unusual scenarios it puts Pokémon in (which I would’ve loved to see done in the main games more often), it’s just too much.

And honestly, I didn’t really want to do the musical studio either. The fun part is dressing up your Pokémon in ridiculous ways with various props, and that’s about where the fun ends. On stage, you perform a number that takes about five whole minutes, and you’re supposed to have more pizzazz than the other performers. Sadly, I have no idea how it’s measured. I know that hand-held props can be used as one-time flourishes, but I—to this day—have never had any clue on the best timing. Also, you have to do this a massive number of times to get everything out of it, and there are not enough dances to select from for variety’s sake. It’s the kind of repetitious grinding that can drive a completionist insane.

To add to the unprofessional-ality of this retrospective, I couldn’t do the competitive battle areas for crap either. The Pokémon World Tournament starts off weirdly easy (at least it was for me). You go through a cup where all eight Gym Leaders of Unova are thrown in as contestants. If you win, you unlock similar cups featuring Gym Leaders from Gens 1-4. While this is no doubt really cool, it’s also really difficult. I just can’t wrap my head around the insanity of competitive Pokémon-ing. The Battle Subway, which features different types of battle gauntlets against random trainers, is more forgiving, but it’s also less exciting.

When it comes to overall difficulty, Black and White 2 can be nasty if you don’t know the series’ mechanics REALLY well. Levels tend to hike up when it comes to gyms, creating a lot of walls if you don’t have specific Pokémon to account for them. I enjoy playing Pokémon slightly underleveled, since knowing the mechanics tends to outweigh pure stats, but man, not having the Gen 6 and onward Exp. Share is… hard to go back to. And for anyone who thinks that particular mechanic in Gen 6 makes things too easy, well… I’ll elaborate on that if I ever do a 10th Anniversary X and Y retrospective next year. I don’t really know how hard mode is, but according to Bulbapiedia… yikes.

In case Black and White 2 didn’t seem long enough to you, then get ready for its massive post-game! This opens up a ton of new areas: the northwest and southeast corners of the map (i.e. the areas around Icirrus City and the starting area of the first games). It also opens up Clay Tunnel, where you can obtain the Regis. The thing is… they’re all in the same room, and require the Key System setting to change the room to accommodate each Regi. These Keys were obtained by beating the game and doing other stuff, and had to be shared with other versions of the game. One set of keys is a difficulty modifier, however, I don’t know if you can have it to where you start a new campaign with one of those keys right off the bat (I kind of wanted to play the game on hard mode). In any case, you need both versions to obtain all three Regis, and unlock Regigigas as well. There was also a mechanic that allowed you to see N’s past, and randomly spawn Pokémon formerly owned by him into the wild. However, I don’t remember much of that mechanic nor how to do it.

It also opens up the version-exclusive Black City and White Forest. The former represents corporate greed and is really miserable and ugly, while the latter is quaint and happy. However, unlike the previous games where White was objectively better, both areas are more balanced in Black and White 2. Both of these areas have a unique challenge dungeon. Each set of floors has you go through a procedurally generated dungeon, fighting random trainers for hints on where the gatekeeper trainer is. Beating the gatekeeper trainer opens the door to the boss. Items cannot be used, but levels aren’t fixed either, so you can theoretically grind to level 100 and have an easy time. In any case, making progress opens shops in Black City and White Forest, each with unique items, and beating the final boss gives you a Shiny Gible and Shiny Dratini respectively. There is also an area that opens up after completing the Unova Regional Pokédex, but to this day, I have never managed to get it, especially since this game doesn’t have two rivals to register all three starters with (and it’s not Sinnoh where it’s programmed to make Regional Dex completion easy). 

And here’s the cherry on top: the Medal system. This is technically not post-game content, but it is part of getting to rate these games as 100% completed in your book. There are Medals for everything, from basic stuff, to completing everything in the side areas such as PokéStar Studios. This also includes completing a Pokémon League run with a single-Type team for EVERY Pokémon Type (fortunately, dual-Types count as long as one Type matches across the board), as well as a run with a single Pokémon (shouldn’t be too hard for those very first fans who just used their starter for the entirety of Red and Blue as kids because they didn’t know how the game worked). It’s a tad bit excessive.

Some of this stuff seems like it requires monumental grinding, and it does. Fortunately, Unova is by far the best generation for this sort of thing. Every day, stadiums in Nimbasa city spawn trainer battles (as long as it’s the right time of the day, otherwise they’ll be closed off). By the post-game, there are TONS of battles, enough to take at least half an hour total. In addition to this is a fight with your rival, a tag-team battle involving the trio of Gym Leaders from the first game’s Gym, and a fight with Colress (if you’re willing to go through two routes to get to him every time). ALL of these respawn daily. Furthermore, a rare Pokémon named Audino can spawn in any light-colored Pokémon grass, and that thing drops a LOT of XP!

Generally, I consider Unova to have excellent design in terms of layout and stuff to do (especially the latter), but I do have one qualm with it: seasons. There’s a reason that this only occured in Gen 5, because it’s handled stupidly. Basically, the game will track the date and time on your DS, and dynamically change the overworld depending on the seasons. While this is a nice detail, it results in some areas that cannot be reached except on specific seasons. And what’s worse is that autumn and winter are—to my knowledge—the only ones that really matter in terms of gameplay. 

For this passage, I need to make something clear: for some reason, I really love the world of Pokémon. It does have questionable ethics (and a lack of law enforcement), but I always loved existing in it. It always felt like a lucid dream to me (which is ironic since dreams are a theme in this game), and Unova always felt like one of the dreamiest. Pretty much every town has some sort of personality that makes it stand out, and a lot of them have my favorite atmospheres in the series. One such example is Village Bridge, which is an area that you just go through, with no plot relevance in either games. As a result, I always felt like it was a place removed from the rest of society, and it had a sense of quaintness to it.

I also love the visuals of Gen 5. This was the first generation where the POKÉMONS’ NAMES WEREN’T ALL CAPS, and more importantly, the first where their sprites were animated, showing off their full bodies in battle. The 3D is also much more intricate than Sinnoh’s, and the games run better as well. It’s also the first game where Abilities have a flashy visual that appears when they are activated.

The soundtrack is also one of my favorites in the series, with awesome overworld and battle themes. People generally love Route 10 from the first game, but as great as that song is, I also love the Route 23 that replaces it in the sequels. Colress also has one of my favorite boss themes in the series, but Ghetsis’ ominous, minimalist theme gets a remix in the sequels which kind of kills the impact of the original. One thing that Gen 5 does that is never revisited until Gen 7 is dynamic themes. Gym Leaders play an alternate theme when on their last Pokémon, but it doesn’t stop there. Certain NPCs in towns can play music which adds to the actual town’s theme. The most prevalent example is the aforementioned Village Bridge, which becomes a fully composed song complete with lyrics after you talk to all the NPCs involved.

~~~~~

After All These Years: 9/10

I love Pokémon Black and White 2, but since then, Game Freak has greatly streamlined gameplay. It’s just really nice that the newer games are programmed so that all your Pokémon will be fairly balanced for each challenge as long as you fight every regular trainer battle. Oh, and those side mechanics… ew. Since the DS is kind of dead, I obviously can’t recommend these games whatsoever. But hey, if you somehow have copies lying around that you bought ten years ago and never played, then I think you should play them.

Slime Rancher: A Wholesome Management Game Draws Near!

I had known about Slime Rancher for a while thanks to StephenPlays’ First20 video he made years ago. I never watched the video, but it at least got me to acknowledge the game’s existence. And when I finally looked at its Steam page, I kind of wanted to try it. So, here we are. I just love making time management increasingly difficult.

Slime Rancher throws you in like cold turkey as you assume the role of Beatrix LeBeau, who runs a slime ranch in the Far, Far Range. Raise slimes and profit, basically. That’s it.

Like many games of its kind, Slime Rancher is complicated. The basic idea is to corral slimes, and feed them food to earn plorts, which are sold for money. However, you have to account for the many different slime types, as well as their behaviors and diets. Also, slimes can eat plorts, and eating a different type than their own turns them into a largo slime. These poop out plorts of both source types when fed, but eating a third type turns them into dangerous tarr slimes that can cause SERIOUS trouble.

The game doesn’t hold your hand, but in a good way. You get all the knowledge you need in your Slimepedia, and it’s up to you to figure out how to make all these different systems mesh. If you jump the gun trying to raise multiple types of slimes too soon, it’ll get ugly and high-maintenance. Also, if you place too many slimes without the higher wall and ceiling upgrade for their corral, they can pile up enough to escape pretty easily and eat your stuff (and each other’s plorts, creating more tarr). 

Fortunately, things really get going once you get cash. Spend it on various facility upgrades, as well as expansions of the ranch to allow more variety (and room) for slimes to be raised in. Essential upgrades include the jetpack, for exploring, and the ability to store and use water, ideally against tarr slimes. However, new upgrades seem to unlock completely at random. There are likely hidden prerequisites, but it’s not all clear what those are.

Exploration is the key here. There’s a LOT to the Far, Far Range. It’s full of presents, which are pretty useless as they only contain cosmetic items. The important stuff are the map stations and gordo slimes. The former is self-explanatory, but gordo slimes are large, stationary slimes that come in every type. Feeding them a lot of the favorite food of that slime type will give you important rewards, from keys to unlock new regions, to your source of fast travel from one region back to the ranch. While the world ends up being pretty small, there is a lot to it. The best aspect about it is that its design allows for sequence breaking in a lot of spots. With enough jetpack upgrades, you can fly up to the highest point in the level!

The lab opens up a massive portion of the game. With it, you can craft gadgets with Slime Science. These gadgets can place automated devices to find resources, and more importantly, the ability to create your own fast travel points for yourself and for items found while exploring. Simply deposit plorts and the various resources found with the automated devices into the refinery, and consume them in the fabricator to create your gadgets. Buy blueprints to get more rewards.

However, despite the “family friendly” tag on Steam, Slime Rancher can be tough. Not only will it be overwhelming at the beginning, but those tarr slimes are very scary early on. You can easily avoid them spawning on your ranch, but they can naturally spawn in the overworld (and I wasn’t willing to test if they can spread to your ranch from there). They can’t even be dealt with until you get the ability to store water, but once you do, they aren’t so bad.

You can disable them by playing the game in Casual Mode, but that doesn’t remove feral slimes. These guys will very aggressively hunt you down until you feed them something. Unfortunately, slimes are weird with acknowledging food. While not a problem on the ranch, since you can just vomit it into their corral and they’ll eat it eventually, but obviously feral slimes are a different situation. There were way too many times that I fired their preferred food directly at them, and had that food completely ignored, while I got bodied. Also, the Slime Sea is an instant death trap, and there are areas where you will have to platform over it. If you want a real challenge, play the game in Rush Mode, where you’ll need to be the best dang rancher you can be to make money fast.

In addition to a large world, there are side distractions, one of which is The Wilds. Here, you’re thrown into an area filled with feral slimes, and the entrance as well as the exit is in a random location. Collect as much of the special fruit found only in this area and redeem them for rewards to aid you in your ranch.

There’s also a fun challenge from this narcissist named Mochi. With her, you do a timed minigame where you collect lightning projectiles to shoot at an area-exclusive slime for their plorts. These plorts are automatically collected, and you turn them in for a lot of money as well as other perks.

The third and final side activity is the Slimulation. This is a virtual replica of the overworld. Vacuum up glitch slimes, which disguise themselves as regular slimes (but with Ditto faces), and as geometry that isn’t present in the real version of the world. After a while, glitch tarrs will appear to cause chaos. Once the exit portal appears, follow the guides to escape before you become a virtual snack. All glitch slimes are converted to bug reports, which are redeemed for an exclusive resource as well as other rewards.

The biggest problem with Slime Rancher is that completion, as is with most games like this, can be a hassle. While the map is good for your bearings, it’s not easy to find stuff in the world. Gordo slimes are marked off after you feed them once, and gadgets that you place get added to the map as well. But that’s it. Treasure pods—both unopen and otherwise—cannot be marked on here. In addition to a number of strange achievements, you must also earn a highscore in Rush Mode, which is a money-focused speedrun mode with a time limit.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 9/10

Slime Rancher is an addictive and wholesome management game that puts a smile on my face. I already have the sequel wishlisted, and hopefully it’ll expand on the established mechanics to make something even better than this. I recommend it if you like management games like Stardew Valley.

Apparently, Triple-A Gaming is Scary: A Rant

I’m a Nintendo kid. Despite its shortcomings, such as terrible online servers (which I don’t use because I choose not to have friends), and games that don’t even remotely meet people’s expectations (that they continue to make despite negative feedback), I am prepared to follow them to the bitter end. In recent years, I’ve learned that many triple-A game studios are, for the most part, heartless swindlers, and Nintendo was the least of many evils.

One bad thing I’ve heard of is microtransactions in pay-to-win games. Normally, they show up in games that are free. However, I’ve heard of them showing up in a lot of games that cost money to buy, too (such as one of the Crash Bandicoot racing games). That’s pretty gross, but that’s only the tip of a much larger iceberg. And gamers are the Titanic.

The worst I had heard of was Bethesda, the creators of Fallout and Elder Scrolls. Their games are buggy; notoriously buggy. And. They. Don’t. Care. This studio rolls in millions of smackaroos by consciously putting out dysfunctional games that people still buy for some reason. Not only that, but some of the controversies I had heard of are actually illegal, such as a scam in Fallout ’76 Collector’s Edition merch, where people didn’t actually get what they paid for.

However, seeing is believing, and I had no idea just how bad triple-A gaming is; it’s gotta be the most corrupt consumer market next to car dealerships. I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but I bought a new gaming laptop. It’s small, but it’s a beast, and it can play pretty much any triple-A game coming out in the foreseeable future. There were some coming out this year that I actually wanted… and this is when I saw the corruption firsthand.

The first sign is Square Enix’s Forspoken. Apparently, PS5 games cost $69.99USD, but Forspoken costs that much on PC as well. According to the Steam forums, Forspoken will start a new precedent by Square Enix to gradually increase the price of all triple-A games… eventually topping off at $100USD. It’s not only disgustingly corrupt; it’s stupid. At this point, the only thing that this generation’s games have is better graphics, and to even appreciate those, you need to break out thousands on a TV that can support such ludicrous resolutions. And that’s not even taking into account the amount of these massively anticipated games that flop hardcore. Even if Forspoken was a good game—heck, even if it was a really good game that’s worth the money—buying it would only feed the beast.

Another problem is Bethesda’s Starfield. I ignored this game when it was announced, but recently, I’ve been watching Tom Fawkes play through Elder Scrolls IV: The Krug Khronicles. Elder Scrolls is my kind of game: open world sandbox, non-linear structure, a myriad of playstyles, and multiple solutions to quests. Bethesda has a good design philosophy… but sadly, they can’t—and won’t—execute it well. I would love to play Starfield, but it’s such a huge risk. As a weeb, I’m also interested in Ghostwire Tokyo. Although Bethesda’s merely its publisher, not its devs, they probably have the authority to tell the actual devs something like “So, if you happen to come across any bugs in the game’s programming, don’t do anything, ‘kay?”. They’ve gotten away with selling broken products for decades. In fact, people still buy their games despite this.

That last phrase is the real crux of the matter, isn’t it? Despite the glaring flaws that these games have, people buy them anyway. It’s almost like a vicious cycle. Square Enix can get away with what they’re pulling, because people will pay anything for the next big thing. I’ve lived through so many games that were supposed to “transcend reality” that ended up being mediocre disappointments. 

Us middle-class plebes boycotting a game won’t do much of anything, because of how the gaming landscape has changed. We have to factor in gamers, and I don’t mean people who play games as their hobby; I mean those who play games for a living. The algorithm is ruthless, and playing the right game at the right time is literally what puts a roof over their heads. Square Enix can raise their prices however high they want, for the professional gamers are obligated to buy any and all highly anticipated releases. They’ll shell out the triple-digit-dough for a special edition when applicable, especially when factoring in collectors. If Square Enix really plans to shift the market like this, they will succeed. It really won’t make any difference if I buy Forspoken or not. In fact, I’m tempted to get it day 1 because it would be an interesting experience to be part of the inevitable controversy surrounding its main protagonist, since apparently having a Black female lead protagonist in 2022 is utterly outrageous.

In addition to all that, we have to worry about these things called NFTs (short for Non-Fungible Tokens). I had heard of them on the Disc Only Podcast, where they were alluded to as harbingers of the apocalypse (I distinctly recall one person in chat responding with “We live in a dystopia”). No one on the podcast actually explained what NFTs were, so it meant they were a big enough deal to assume that everyone knew what they were. Of course, I didn’t because I’m me. Based on what I looked up, NFTs are simply the digital equivalent to a certificate of authentication on a collector’s item. The most corrupt aspect about them just seems to be the fact that rich people have spent millions on them, as opposed to giving that money to charities. I don’t quite know how they will bring ruin to our lives, but apparently, if they become incorporated into videogames, us consumers will suddenly find ourselves with empty wallets and no First Amendment.

The objectively better thing to do is back out and play indie games. While these smaller teams can still make equally bad decisions as triple-A studios (possibly even more-so), they at least cost less, at most half the price of a triple-A game. Best case scenario, you’ll have something that’s just as good as, if not better than, most triple-A games at their finest. Indie games will likely not be affected by an increase in triple-A game prices; in fact, it would only make people flock over to their more affordable games instead. I’m already stoked for this year’s indie titles, with Sea of Stars, SacriFire, and Slime Rancher 2 to name a few (oh right, I gotta upload my review of the first game eventually…). Not to mention that Nintendo still has a promising lineup of $59.99USD games, such as Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, Mario and Rabbids: Sparks of Hope, Splatoon 3, and more. In fact, listing these titles off already made me more excited for them.

Speaking of Nintendo, I want to end this off positively. Not all of these studios are bad; you just have to look past the ads blaring “NEXT-GEN GRAPHICS” and whatnot. Some triple-A games are actually worth the $59.99USD, and not just Nintendo. For example, Yakuza is a very beloved SEGA I.P. that I’ve never once heard any of these con-art stories from. Also, I’ve been playing Grounded in Early Access. It’s by Obsidian, which is—I believe—a triple-A studio. I’ve really loved it, even in Early Access (although I can’t get any achievements because I don’t have an Xbox account and have to play offline). There are no absolutes in the infinitely complex world of gaming, except for “absolute wastes of money.” 

So, the moral of the story? Don’t play triple-A games, and don’t take up gaming as a career. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but you should be wary of how the market is because it is capitalism at its rudest. What is your experience with the con artists who make up triple-A studios? Have you converted to indie games because they’re cheaper?

Black Skylands: My First Early Access Experience

The idea of playing games in Early Access was always interesting to me. If you don’t know what Early Access is, allow me to define it: basically, you pay to play a partially finished game, and support it as it develops over time. Of course, the biggest risk is the possibility of the game having to be abandoned for whatever reason. One such thing apparently happened last November with Among Trees. However, there are a lot of popular Early Access games, such as Raft, Death Trash, and Satisfactory. There are also some that are more off the beaten path, such as Black Skylands.

In Black Skylands, you have your usual race of humanoids who live on sky islands (or skylands, hence the title drop). This world, known as Aspya, has been plagued by the Swarm (a common noun turned into a proper noun, as is tradition). The main protagonist is a girl named Eva, and her dad is captain of the Earners. He has a crackpot plan to journey into the Eternal Storm because he thinks the solution to beat back the swarm is there. However, when scientists bring back a sample of a Swarm creature, everything falls apart. Seven years later, Eva has to fix everything herself.

It’s easy to impulsively buy Black Skylands because it is gorgeous. I’ve grown to love pixel-art, and how deceptively versatile it is for conveying different artstyles. This game is vibrant, and full of color. As you sail on your skyship, you’ll see creatures of all sizes that are just there for cosmetics; from flying manta rays above you, to massive behemoths that thankfully hang at much lower altitudes. Unfortunately, the nature of the game’s top-down perspective can make characters look the same in the overworld. That’s why they have their portraits during dialogue.

The weakest part of the game is no doubt the story. A lot is thrown at you very fast, and the worst part is the catalyst of all of it: the aforementioned incident regarding the Swarm creature. In its aftermath, this dude named Kain turns into a maniacal sociopath, whose faction, the Falconers, pillage and murder the people of Aspya in some twisted sense of justice. It’s your usual “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and the worst part is why. He gets mad because his bird died in the incident. While I can’t imagine the grief from losing a pet animal, I don’t exactly think it’s a reason to form a dystopian government.

Fortunately, Black Skylands shows fantastic potential even in Early Access. In fact, I’ve played finished games that were worse. There’s a ton of stuff to do in the overworld, most of which is on the various skylands. These are full of resources, treasures, quests, and more. By defeating all enemies on a skyland, you reclaim it from the Falconers. Doing this rescues the population, who for some reason, act as a currency to enable special passive upgrades. Islands can be retaken, but it doesn’t happen that often, and the game at least shows a time limit on the HUD (something I’m pretty sure other games with similar mechanics don’t do).

Inventory management can be an issue. Your skyship can only hold twenty items at first, and they don’t stack. Quest-relevant NPCs you need to transport are stored in crates and count toward that inventory, which is admittedly pretty funny. The rub is that essentials for your ship to not go derelict, such as fuel canisters, repair kits, and ammo boxes, take up this space as well. 

There’s a lot to do in your main base of operations, the Fathership, as well. This place has seen better days, and it’s up to you to fix all of it from the ground up. Like in many games of this kind, you consume resources to build facilities that produce more important resources.

The best part is customization. There are a ton of weapon types and playstyles to pick from. Most weapons can have mods installed, which can be crafted or found in mod crates scattered across the world. Your skyships also have a wide variety of components to equip. Unfortunately, equipment tends to become useless fast, since you can level up facilities faster than you can get all the resources necessary to craft every piece of equipment, allowing you to get the next tier of equipment.  

Yes, I said skyships just now. Once you build the ship workshop, you can buy new types of ships and new parts for them and modify literally every aspect of them. As of this review, they only have four types of ships. From what I can tell, there are no cases where you need the little lightweight ship to fit into a narrow passage (although there are some really narrow passages that I have NO IDEA how to get through). 

There are also artifacts. By solving puzzles scattered throughout the world, you obtain crystals that grant you and your ship cool abilities. These are very helpful, and naturally, they can’t be spammed. Eva’s artifacts have a cooldown period, and the ship consumes energy, the latter of which can be replenished by destroying the many asteroids scattered throughout the world, or flying enemies. It doesn’t regenerate over time or when you take it to the shipyard, which kind of sucks, because I don’t think the asteroids respawn either.

Combat is where things get interesting. Black Skylands has a fun mix of range and melee combat. You have your arsenal of guns at your disposal, but it’s encouraged to use your grappling hook for sneak attacks, or to yeet people off of cliffs. Your only source of healing is medkits, but refills tend to be common enough.

Speaking of the grappling hook, you better learn that thing fast. It’s your main source of movement over the vast skies below. Fortunately, if you fall, you don’t immediately die. For some reason, you can somehow try to grapple the nearest grabbable ledge and save yourself. It’s really nice, especially when you’re learning to use the darn thing.

Skyship flying can be difficult at times. They seem to have so much momentum that once they hit top speed, I could let go of the gas and it would move forward perpetually until I hit the brakes. Also, the cannons on them are… interesting. They point at different angles depending on the ship, which makes combat a bit weird. Also, the controls are kind of bizarre; you can only shoot just the right cannon or all cannons. The Annihilator Beam artifact helps because it is a head-on frontal attack. 

So far, Black Skylands is surprisingly difficult for a chill sandbox game. Once you’re asked to go to the ice region, the game really starts to test your grappling and fighting abilities. Fortunately, dying has virtually no penalty… not that I would know that from experience, of course *sweating emoji*.

One thing that can end up being a downer is that fast travel costs money relative to the distance from point A to point B. This sucks because you need money for a lot of things. It’s plentiful enough in the overworld, but it’s amazing how fast you can empty your pockets. One protip that you’re never taught is that cabbage, the cheapest crop to grow, sells for an obscene amount of money for such a common resource. As far as I know, cabbage isn’t used for anything else, so they probably intended for them to be your main source of income.

~~~~~

Current Verdict: 8.75/10

Black Skylands could become one of this year’s most underrated games once it’s complete. Hopefully, that’ll actually happen, considering that this isn’t as popular as the aforementioned Early Access titles. As fun as it is, the lack of many facilities, among other small things, betrays its incomplete state. If the game gets cancelled, I’ll update this post with that information. Otherwise, I highly recommend you give it a try if it strikes your fancy, and support its development by doing so.

Spiritfarer: The Ultimate Casual Game

I’ve definitely been getting a bit more into indie games lately (mostly because they’re relatively cheap), but most of the ones I’ve played are very much in the raw gameplay category. Of course, indie games are just as well known for being more “video” than “game”; as in, they fall into the realm of artistic and emotional experiences that have definitely turned the meaning of the word “videogame” on its head. From Journey, to What Remains of Edith Finch, Gris, and more, a lot of these are highly acclaimed and have brought tons of gamers to tears. I’ve watched people play a lot of the aforementioned titles, mostly from StephenPlays and his wife, Mal. While those games definitely presented themselves really well, I never cried over them. And honestly, it does kind of make me self-deprecate when I’m literally watching people break down in sobs and I… don’t. Basically, the crux of this long-winded preface is me thinking “What if it’s because I’m not playing these games myself? What if I need to be the one moving the character and pushing the buttons and looking at them from my own TV?” This is what’s led me to trying one of the latest emotional indie games, Spiritfarer. Well, that and the fact that you get to construct a cool boat in it.

In Spiritfarer, a girl named Stella suddenly awakens in the River Styx (or something). This creepy hooded guy named Charon looms above her, and says that he’s retiring from his job as the Spiritfarer. Stella, and her cat Daffodil, are given Everlights, which make them the new Spiritfarers. Their task is to find any spirit who isn’t ready to pass on and help them to pass on (which, in terms of gameplay, is to spoil them rotten until they’re happy). When they’re ready, she is to take them to the Everdoor, where they will finally join Prince in the afterworld, a place of never-ending happiness, where the sun shines both day and night. 

Normally, I discuss story, gameplay, and audio-visuals in that order. However, because of how Spiritfarer is, I’m actually going to discuss it in reverse, mostly because I want you to writhe in suspense over whether or not I—as the heartless machine I am—cried over the game’s story. For reasons I’ll get to throughout the review, the gameplay and story rely on how the game looks and sounds.

At a glance, Spiritfarer seems just alright visually. Indie games with hand-drawn art styles are nothing new, and this one looks no better than an American graphic novel (and if you’ve read my review of The Witch Boy, you’ll know how much I don’t care for that artstyle). However, you can’t truly appreciate Spiritfarer’s visuals without actually playing the darn thing, and lemme tell you… this ended up being one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever looked at. The colors are striking and vibrant, with beautiful lighting effects. The character design is fantastic, with every person having a unique and creative look. What really surprised me was the animation. Like I said, games done in hand-drawn style are nothing new, but I daresay that Spiritfarer has phenomenal animation. They know that good animation comes down to subtle mannerisms and minute details. And despite being a silent protagonist, Stella dynamically reacts to dialogue, which helps make her feel alive as well. Word of warning, though. Remember how old videogames loved giving you seizures? Something similar occurs in this game during specific scenes, such as when you welcome a new character to your boat.

The soundtrack is just as deceptively fantastic. As one of the few people who actually loved Zelda Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack, Spiritfarer’s was just as enchanting. It’s super chill (except at certain points, which I’ll cover later) and soothing. But unlike Breath of the Wild with having one overworld theme and then the final dungeon theme, Spiritfarer has several different themes. Sometimes, I’ll play as inefficient as possible just as an excuse to chill (that, and the fact that I’m never efficient in these kinds of games).

Regardless of what I end up thinking of the story, what made me more invested than anything was Spiritfarer’s gameplay, which will be discussed at length. In essence, Spiritfarer plays like a 2-D Raft, where you collect resources through various methods in order to craft facilities and structures for your boat. The system is pretty simple and intuitive, and you can place buildings anywhere within your boat’s space, since it’ll auto-construct ladders. The tricky part, especially early-game, is wrestling with the boat’s size. The various facilities come in wild shapes and sizes, and it’s as fun as it is frustrating to try and clutter it all together. Fortunately, there is an edit feature where you can freely move the buildings without having to dismantle and rebuild them. 

There’s also plenty of upgrades for your rig. You can go to Al’s Shipyard to increase the boat’s size, unlock new facilities, and a host of other things. One of the best aspects of this is that your quest menu will actually list the next upgrades, showing you what you need without having to go to Al’s just because you forgot what was required. You can also upgrade individual facilities, but you need to unlock those upgrades as they come. Stella herself also has upgrades. You earn Obols as payment from newly welcomed spirits, and by donating those to various shrines found throughout the world, you can give her improved mobility and whatnot. It gives the game a sort of metroidvania vibe, even though it really isn’t. 

So how do you get resources? Well, the main way is to visit various islands. Your map starts out pretty small, but expands as you explore further. And while you could theoretically shoot in the dark for a new island (especially on repeat playthroughs if you know where they are), you can also receive quests and random messages in a bottle that will mark out those otherwise darkened areas. Like Wind Waker, your boat actually needs to sail to it. And honestly, I think the sailing in Spiritfarer is better than in Wind Waker by a long shot. Once you start getting new facilities, you can kill the long sailing times by doing tasks (more on that later), fishing, or just straight-up relaxing. The ship cannot move at night, but that can be remedied by going to bed. Just remember to ring the bell just outside of your room to wake your guests (and also remember to never ring it unless the time display on the HUD has the bell symbol, especially not while they’re supposed to be asleep). 

Also unlike Wind Waker, there are a lot of resource gathering areas that regularly respawn en route (although you can and should go out of your way for them if you don’t have a straight shot to your next island). THESE are where things get fun. Despite the game not having any stakes or feeling of death, these special respawning zones (with the exception of collecting drifting crates) make resource collecting fun and exhilarating. From jumping around to collide with space jellyfish that live in random rifts in space-time, to letting yourself get struck by lightning to capture it in empty bottles, Spiritfarer somehow makes an adrenaline-pumping experience even though you can’t die. The soundtrack ramps up during these sections to make it even more fun. One of the best parts is that despite how “casual” Spiritfarer is, you are still rewarded for having intrinsic platforming skills, since you get more resources that way.

That philosophy extends to the facilities in the boat. Normally, the loom or the furnace are used like normal crafting tables, except you sometimes have to wait a minute for results. Here, you have to make them yourself. From playing a rhythm game to speed up plant growth to precisely cutting logs into planks, there are different mechanics for making various resources. Again, you are not straight-up punished for doing bad, but doing good gets you a bonus increase in results. They really keep you busy while the boat is moving. If you can’t stand the long journey (or don’t have any speed upgrades), you can sail to a bus stop (once unlocked) to fast travel around the world.

Cooking is done really well in Spiritfarer. At first glance, it seems like the usual “put ingredients in, get a thing, and slam your head against the wall trying every possible combination in order to get all the recipes”, but it’s a bit more than that. One thing I learned was that you could insert up to five of the same ingredient to get five that dish at once with the cost of more cooking time. Furthermore, your kitchen is a deceptively good source of coal because the sawdust you obtain from cutting logs can be cooked into it. There are also treasures that contain recipes so you don’t always have to brute force them.

SO… all of that covers what you can do on your way to a given island. How about when you GET to an island?! Sadly, the islands are hit-or-miss. Some are just flat albeit lovely plains, while others have a fair share of nooks and crannies. In any case, you will regularly need to visit these places to replenish your basic resources. Fortunately, the preview of it on your map will indicate if resources have respawned, which is a really nice touch. 

As expected from a resource collecting game, the platinum trophy is tied to obtaining at least one of every item in the game. These are presented to a lovely walrus named Susan, who is probably one of the best collector-type characters I have seen in any videogame. At certain milestones, you will get some great rewards, so stop by often.

Anyway, I’ve just talked about the faring part of Spiritfarer for about ten years but not the spirit part. Basically, you find wayward souls on various islands. A lot of people are dead in this world (for some reason), but the ones you want will have a silhouette over their heads. When recruited, they will begin to make the ship their own. As previously discussed, you need to make them happy.

The main way of doing this is to complete quests. This ranges from building new facilities (like their own private quarters) to going to particular areas of story relevance to them. You also have to worry about their moods. You’ll have to feed them regularly, keeping their individual tastes in mind. One of my gripes with the game is that the feed menu itself doesn’t show you their preferences, but honestly you just need to regularly look at their favorites (in the Mood tab) BEFORE you select feed. Unfortunately, they also fail to show what you’ve fed them already, making it an incredible grind to find their favorite dish. As far as I know, there is no trophy for finding everyone’s favorite food (and if there was then I missed it).

You also need to make sure you talk to them whenever an exclamation point or a random text box appears. Usually, it’s just a reminder that they’re hungry or have a quest; but sometimes, you get random tidbits of their backstory. You should pay attention to what they say, because if they talk about an unpleasant memory, it will decrease their mood, and you should respond appropriately by giving them a hug (yes that’s a thing in this game).

So, we’re finally onto the story. The story that many have said is emotional, heart-rending, and powerful. I’ll admit that I was impressed. The writing is phenomenal, with a lot of dry humor that somehow fits in well with the more emotional stuff. All of the characters have basic personalities, but are given more life by the excellent writing and emotive expressions. The game is great at building anticipation for releasing them, and the actual cinematics when that happens are breathtaking. 

And yet, I didn’t shed a tear.

There are some reasons that can be blamed on the game. While the writing is really good, a lot of the more nuanced aspects of the spirits’ character arcs are very loose. Heck, you won’t even be explicitly told exactly how they died. Also, you could literally just be checking on them while you make your rounds, and they’ll suddenly be like: “Let me share with you this traumatic memory!” I tried to pay attention for the most part, but it’s hard to pay attention while you’re trying to make sure everyone (including assorted farm animals) are fed, your windmill is actually rotating, your plants are watered, while also squeezing time to smelt ores or use the loom. This game was something that had to be left up to interpretation, but the Lily Update that came out early 2021 straight up tells you Stella’s backstory and each spirit’s role in the overarching story.

However, the blame still rests on me, and it probably has to do with my autism. I say that the characters are loose and interpretive, but that could easily be my inability to understand people. There are some aspects of the brain that completely elude our best neurologists to this day, which are part of some sense of “understanding” that I do not have. Most neurotypical people can probably read the lines of these spirits as it is, and piece together exactly what happened to them—down to their cause of death—with no problem. In fact, based on one of the patch notes I read, the fans knew more about one character than the devs themselves! Honestly, I feel jealous. Games like this are part of why I question if I like having autism. 

Regardless of what the exact backstories of these characters are, with Spiritfarer being a slice-of-life, they’re all going to amount to being a normal, realistic, human issue of some kind. People and critics seem to think that those are the most objectively and unequivocally fascinating narrative themes, but I don’t. I suppose you can blame my autism again.

Also, my impression has sort of been colored by the content updates. It’s not really the content of the updates, but the fact that they were announced when I was in position to beat the game. Since I wanted to play those first, I ended up waiting months for them. And as a result, a lot of the plot was lost to me. My clearest memories are the above passages that you just read, written while they were fresh in my mind (this review, consequently, took over a year to write to completion).

Beyond all I’ve discussed, there are still a couple of flaws with Spiritfarer. It’s nothing game-breaking, but I don’t want to sound like that guy who glosses over issues just to sound “right”. First off, while the game appears to be pretty open world, progress is deceptively linear. Usually, these kinds of games gate you from certain progression by just not giving you certain resources, and having you craft what you can in order to gradually find those resources. Spiritfarer is a lot more strict than that. The resource collection events, such as lightning and stuff, are tied to a specific character, requiring you to have them on your boat before you can obtain the resource. Also, certain regions of the game are locked behind specific boat upgrades. Those upgrades require a Spirit Flower, which is only obtained by releasing a spirit, making the game even more linear. This also, sadly, can make you look forward to releasing a spirit, which kind of kills the emotional value of the sequences. Other than that, some chests require blind leaps of faith to reach. There’s no punishment for missing, of course, but the lack of bottomless pits doesn’t make that kind of level design any less annoying.

It also gets grindy if you go for the platinum trophy. Fishing isn’t too bad if you can find the optional upgrade that allows you to catch even the most difficult fish in less than a minute. The problem is the cooking. If you don’t look up all the recipes, you’ll end up brute-forcing a lot of them. While most items take any of a given type of food, some are more specific. It didn’t make the game fun anymore, so I just gave up on it. Oh well, like Hudson Hornet said: “It’s just an empty digital cup.”

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 9.65/10

Spiritfarer is one of the greatest casual gaming experiences of my life, and definitely one of my favorite indie games. It didn’t make me cry, but it’s something I will never forget. I’d try the other two games by this team, but they—in a stark contrast to this game—look rip-your-ass-off-difficult. Hopefully they’ll start working on a new project soon-ish? In any case, I recommend Spiritfarer if you like Stardew Valley and Edith Finch and stuff.

Pokemon BDSP: Gen 4 But it’s Playable

Of all the mainstream fandoms I’m actually a part of, it kinda sucks that Pokémon is one of them. I love the games, but a lot of fans are basically the Star Wars of the videogame world; full of people who are dead set on criticizing anything that comes out after the first three core installments. You do not need to go far to find ridiculously divided opinions on every game from Gen 4 onward. I do think Pokémon has had [many] ups and downs, but I’d pick Sun and Moon with slow text over some of the horrors I’ve heard from outfits like EA and Bethesda. Anyways, the newest punching bag, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are out, and I haven’t read any reviews besides my own. Based on my experiences on the Internet, I have a gut feeling that people hate this one. I want to prove them wrong, but I would have to actually disagree with them first! Without further ado, let’s jump back into Sinnoh, specifically the Shining Pearl version!

Before I start, I must state how significant this game is for me personally. The first Pokémon game I ever played was Pokémon Platinum, and I sucked hardcore at it. We all suck at our first Pokémon game, since it’s so different from most JRPGs. Once I got to the point where I knew all the series’ nuances, I always wanted to go back and whoop Platinum’s ass. The problem is that I lost my copy. As such, this remake is FINALLY my chance to redeem myself in Sinnoh!

In the fourth generation of Pokémon, your trainer is—as per usual—given a Pokédex and a free starter. Also as per usual, you have to complete the professor’s somehow empty Pokédex. However, you and your friends end up having a run-in with Team Galactic, led by Cyrus. He wants to rewrite the entire cosmos, so… Good luck with that.

I don’t know about most of the Internet, but when I first looked at the pics for these games, I didn’t exactly like how it appeared. They reverted back to the chibi style, and made it resemble the Switch remake of Link’s Awakening, but a lot more lifeless. However, after finally getting to play them, the visuals grew on me. It’s as vibrant and cozy as the Pokémon world always was, and the water graphics are particularly appealing. The updated soundtrack is really solid as well.

Let’s discuss Gen 4’s story once again… or lack thereof. Diamond and Pearl, being before Gen 5, really don’t try to be engaging whatsoever. It is the usual formula of “go get Gym Badges until the bad guys show up and you happen to be at the right place at the right time.” There really isn’t anything else to say about it.

I was never really a fan of the characters either; everyone was pretty one-dimensional to me. While the updated look gives some personality to their mannerisms, it’s pretty inconsistent how much stock is put into them; I’ve seen random Trainers get more love than plot-relevant characters. The Gym Leaders are their usual one-off, pre-Gen-5 selves, with Crasher Wake being the only memorable one to me.

If Sinnoh’s story did anything right, it made a big leap forward in Pokémon lore. Legendaries have always played a religious role in this world, but in Gen 4, we have literal gods. The box-art Legendaries, Dialga and Palkia, control the fabric of space-time itself, while a trio of three sprites who reside in Sinnoh’s great lakes, gave humans all the aspects of, well, humanity.

Being a remake, there are some necessary quality-of-life improvements. Pokémon summaries—for the first time ever—straight-up show an up and down arrow for affected stats in Natures. X items still raise stats by +2, and the Pokétch has an app which replaces the need for any HMs. And most importantly, EVERYTHING IS FASTER. Battles are at Gen 8 speeds, and Surfing isn’t garbage.

However, at what cost do these great improvements come? For starters, TMs are now back to being consumable items (although it’s somewhat alleviated by having TMs received by NPCs come in units of three). Marts and Pokémon Centers don’t share the same building either. What’s extra-damning is that Pokémon Centers don’t have free Move Reminders anymore. Oh, and random encounters are, well, random again; no Pokémon on the field other than statics.

One of the best new perks for true Pokémon gamers is a free Mythical Pokémon! As long as you have save data from Pokémon Sword or Shield, you get a free Jirachi in Floraroma Town. It’s the first time I’ve ever used Jirachi, so it basically felt like an entirely new Pokémon. Furthermore, early buyers obtain a Manaphy Egg (sorry if you’re reading this and you missed the window). It’s also my first time ever using Manaphy, and as such, I also had access to Phione via the Daycare Center. However, I used Manaphy since Phione is objectively weaker, despite being much more annoying to obtain. 

And you better make use of those Mythicals, because through these games, I learned—the hard way—just how good Platinum was. I was looking forward to the Rotom in the haunted house and the Togepi you get from Cynthia. It would be my first time ever using the former with its new Fairy typing. However, in Diamond and Pearl, they are post-game, whereas you get them much earlier in Platinum. The Eevee you would get at Hearthome City is post-game as well. Spiritomb is still impossible to obtain without at least one friend. 

Sadly, this means that they failed to fix many bad problems with Diamond and Pearl’s game design. Fantina’s Gym is still a math class, for starters. Also, the encounter variety is garbage. Sinnoh has some solid Pokémon, sure, but man… Gen 7 and onward has spoiled me in how much variety you get in encounters. For people who don’t know, allow me to sum up Sinnoh’s Pokémon variety: the Chimchar and Ponyta families are the ONLY Fire-Types in the game! Furthermore, routes tend to have the same encounters over and over, moreso than spamming the common pure-Normal and Normal-Flying-Type families of that Gen. I’ve seen Shellos, Ponyta, Geodudes, and more common Pokémon permeate the bulk of Sinnoh.

A mechanic I’m glad to see back is the Grand Underground. This rabbit hole of a side mode is a massive and intricate series of tunnels throughout Sinnoh. You can dig fossils and other really good items in an RNG-based, Battleship-like minigame. Basically, you just smack parts of the wall with a hammer to reveal items. You keep anything that’s fully revealed by the time you run out of guesses. There are also secret bases in the Grand Underground, and new to the remakes are rooms that have Pokémon actually physically roaming around which can be battled and caught at your leisure (while some of these offer a new alternative to annoying encounters, such as Munchlax, there isn’t much better variety here). Statues found in the digging minigame can be placed to affect the spawn of the aforementioned underground encounters. Unfortunately, you can only have one statue effect at a time, dictated by whatever Typing is the majority among your display. I think the biggest flaw is the grind for Spheres to upgrade your Secret Base. You need so many, just to expand it by so little. I think this could be fixed with the ability to trade statues for spheres, because they are much more common than what you can possibly contain within your Base.

Another rabbit hole is the Super Contest Hall. I never dabbled in it back in the old days, so I don’t know if anything has changed. In any case, it’s rhythm game meets brutally long and tedious min-maxing and prep work. Before you can even think of entering, you have to farm berries to make Poffins to feet your Pokémon and increase any of its five Contest attributes. You also have to figure out what the best move to bring into the show based on its Contest effect. That move is basically an ultimate move to use at the right time. Chain with other Pokémon moves to get an even stronger effect. Oh, and make sure you’re actually good at rhythm games. Want a Milotic? Then you gotta dabble in this crap, and that’s assuming you can find the miraculously rare Feebas in the first place. To find it, you need to get to a specific body of water in Mt. Coronet, and fish on one of four specific tiles, whose locations change every day in real time. And even if you manage to find the spot, Feebas still has a low spawn rate on its own tile. 

Gen 4 was pretty tough back in the day. Mars’ Purugly, Jupiter’s Skuntank, Cynthia’s everything… but in the remakes, it becomes almost excessively easy. The more balanced XP distribution from Gen 8 saves on grinding and keeping your team in check, but unlike Gen 8, it doesn’t reach that Goldilocks-zone challenge that I felt Gen 8 had. Even when skipping Trainers, you’ll be overleveled for most of the game. It doesn’t balance out until the Pokémon League, which proves to be about as tough as it was in the old days.

But as admirably I performed this time around, Gen 4 still gets the last laugh on me. For over ten years, I couldn’t do anything in the post-game, and here’s why: for the only time in the series, the pre-requisite for the National Pokédex is to complete the Regional Pokédex. It’s actually quite doable, as long as you fight every Trainer (which the game itself will point out), and talking to Cynthia’s grandma registers each games’ opposite box-art Legendary in your Pokédex, and after that, it’s just a matter of knowing to go after Uxie, Mesprit, and Azelf. Mesprit is a Roaming Legendary, which is annoying, but the initial encounter in its cave that triggers its Roaming status counts toward your Pokédex, so it really is no problem at all. I fought every Trainer, encountered all three lake spirits, and Dialga and Palkia in Platinum, so I have no idea how I failed to complete its Pokédex. Maybe I actually did, but since it was my first Pokémon game and didn’t know the difference between Regional and National Pokédex, I thought I had to literally see all Gen 1-4 Pokémon. But with my old cartridge lost, we’ll never know for sure.

Despite how easy it is to do, I still think it’s a pretty arbitrary prerequisite for the post-game, especially after one of the hardest final bosses in the series. With all that said and done, it’s time to experience the post-game in earnest! Whatever’s carried over seems to be the same, although I couldn’t really tell you that since I only ever experienced the post-game through Chuggaaconroy’s Platinum playthrough up until now. In any case, there’s a lot to do! You have an entire new region to explore, with Heatran slumbering at Stark Mountain. There is also a sidequest that nets you Cresselia, as well as an encounter with Rotom at night in a specific area. One thing I don’t remember is the ability to challenge every Gym Leader again, as well as fights with the Professor’s assistant and your friend that refresh daily.

Of course, the thing to be hype for is the new Ramanas Park. Here, you can catch every Legendary from Gens 1-3, including the Regis needed to get into the Snowpoint Temple to get Regigigas. Since everything has to have extra prerequisites in Sinnoh, it’s not that simple. To fight them, you need to trade Mysterious Shards for Slates that correspond to their room. These Shards are found—rarely, I might add—in the underground. It’s a grind to get all of them, because it’s not like you need one Slate to unlock each room; the cost is one Slate per encounter. That means you’ll need three small Mysterious Shard or one of the far rarer large Mysterious Shards for every Legendary from Gens 1-3. Good luck with that!

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 9/10

I wish it had some of Platinum‘s perks, but nonetheless, these remakes of Diamond and Pearl really do Gen 4 justice. It makes a great entry point, since it doesn’t overwhelm you with massive amounts of encounters right at the beginning. I think there’s supposed to be DLC, but unless it’s a whole campaign like in Sword and Shield, I probably won’t dedicate a whole post to it.

Hyrule Warriors Age of Calamity: A Relativily Short Beat ‘Em Up (Relativily Speaking)

So, long story with this game (and why this review is out such a long time after the game’s release). I had thought about buying Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, the prequel to my current favorite game of all time, at great length last year. I recalled how the original Hyrule Warriors was—and is still—the longest Zelda game of all time, with over 300 hours for a completionist run, according to the website How Long to Beat (or over a thousand according to Jirard the Completionist). I had made a lot of progress, just for the Definitive Edition to come out on Switch, which was a basic eff-you to all my hard work on the Wii U version. However, I got more incentive to play Age of Calamity when I asked how long it is on one of my old Facebook groups, and saw that it was a much more lenient (but still chunky) length. I resolved to get it as a Christmas present for myself… when my sister bought me One Piece Pirate Warriors 4. I was tied to playing through that game, and by the time I finished it, I decided I had no time for Age of Calamity. More recently, I decided to make a soulful decision to suck it up and MAKE time for games that I legitimately want. And so here we are… My third jump into a Warriors game.

In Age of Calamity, well… if you’ve played Breath of the Wild, you know the story. Ganon has become his most monstrous form yet: Calamity Ganon (and if you’ve beaten Breath of the Wild, you know how terrifying he is). Not only are there truckloads of Moblins, even the Guardians meant to defend Hyrule have been corrupted, and turned against the very kingdom they were meant to protect. Link, along with the most waifu-like Zelda of the series, and four Champions, have to unleash one heck of a butt-whooping to get out of this one!

This game gives a lot of context to Breath of the Wild‘s lack of a plot. Apparently, Link isn’t even the hero this time; instead, it’s a robot that time travels from the future to assist Link and Zelda. Confusing, right? Thing is, a Zelda game is a Zelda game. While it isn’t as simple as finding the Divine Beasts and the Master Sword, Age of Calamity is quite straightforward. 

The whole thing with this game was supposed to be getting to know the Champions better. But… there really isn’t much. These guys are more-or-less exactly how they’re seen in Breath of the Wild; even Rivali’s resentment of Link is just arbitrary. Zelda is the same waifu as ever, and Link is… Link. Fortunately, Zelda’s dad learns to eat his words after how strict he was to her.

THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS STORY SPOILERS. Okay, so… in terms of story, Age of Calamity is a massive let-down. Based on how things progress in the game, this is NOT Breath of the Wild’s prequel, but an alternate timeline of the events before Breath of the Wild. Like, seriously. When you complete the final stage, you actually beat Calamity Ganon successfully. None of Link’s memories from Breath of the Wild are reintroduced with their full context nor chronological order like I had hoped. The time travel mechanic, I felt, was done solely to bring in other characters from Breath of the Wild, since their roster was so limited. Kohga also joins in, which is cool, but not supposed to happen. Of course, all of this could be me not remembering Breath of the Wild. Chances are, Sidon might’ve said something like: “Hey, Link! Remember when I time traveled to the past and helped you fight stuff? Oh, you don’t? Ah well, that sucks” at some point in the game.

Gameplay-wise, Age of Calamity is typical Warriors stuff. You have your regular attacks, strong attacks, combos, midair attacks, special attacks, and a unique ability for every character. Like with Hyrule Warriors, strong enemies have weak point gauges that need to be depleted during openings to be able to execute a finishing move. Age of Calamity, however, mixes things up and utilizes the Shiekah Slate. Every character will have access to those lovely powerups such as Remote Bombs, and they are VERY helpful. The basic mechanics for them are pretty much unchanged from Breath of the Wild, but in this game, they can be used to disrupt specific enemy attacks.

The big learning curve, however, is with the characters’ abilities. There aren’t as many to play as in most Warriors games, but they make up for it with depth. While the game is nice enough to give you button prompts for abilities as you play as them, they are still very confusing. Link is a safe bet, since he’s your basic dude. But everyone else… geez. To make it more confusing, the Shiekah Slate powers have unique effects based on who’s using it! 

But if there’s one thing that doesn’t, it’s the Rods. These are your typical elemental Rods from the Zelda series. They have limited ammo, but can be refilled by beating elemental enemies and breaking some crates. Enemies with elemental attributes can easily be trivialized by Rods, but most enemies will at least suffer some effect from them.

One of my biggest concerns playing a Warriors game solo was what to do in the event of multiple urgent objectives happening at opposite points on the map. It never felt balanced except for co-op. However, Age of Calamity fixes that… to a point. You can change which ally you’re playing as at the push of a button. Also, you can pause the game and order the A.I. to go to a specific spot. One important thing that they don’t tell you is that you need to go to the menu and cancel the order once they arrive at the spot. I learned this the hard way, and found my allies doing a 180 and heading back to where I originally wanted them to go instead of forward.

Fortunately, stages aren’t as much of a mess this time around. There are some points where a ton of mobs appear, but it’s not constant. The reason is that they knew that you would need down time in these stages, as there is stuff to find per Zelda tradition. Any out of the way part of the map is likely to contain a special treasure chest. Oh, and guess what else you’ll have to look out for… Yep, those sumbitch Koroks are back (hang on, if this is the prequel, doesn’t that actually mean they’re here for the first time?), but there aren’t nine hundred this time around. 

Of course, fighting is only half the battle. One of the towers from Breath of the Wild serves as Link’s base of operation. Here, you can check equipment and select battles to embark on. You can also solve quests throughout Hyrule, which increases character abilities and increases a lovely Affinity gauge with the region. Later ones will require a LOT of materials, as expected from a Warriors game.

You also have the blacksmith, which allows for the fusion of weapons you pick up in battle. However, it’s kind of complicated in this game. In Hyrule Warriors, you just choose one weapon ability to transfer to the base weapon. But here, there are a whole bunch of nuances with stat bonuses, as well as an extra perk for abilities with matching shapes on their icon. One important thing that they don’t tell you (either that or I skipped it like an idiot) is that an ability slot is added every fifth weapon level up. Just like with Hyrule Warriors, it’s worth experimenting with this system to create something stupid powerful!

Difficulty-wise, Age of Calamity is about as tough as you can expect. It can be overwhelming to get used to the controls, but as you level up and gain more powerful weapons, it becomes a bit more manageable. However, some of the side missions can be a bit of a pain (plus some of the DLC ones can have large difficulty spikes). Some timed missions were incredibly sting twitch respawning mobs, resulting in some uncomfortably close shaves. Also, they have no-damage missions, which are my absolute weakness in Warriors games. Knowing Breath of the Wild mechanics is a great advantage, since most enemies have the same attack patterns (with some new ones thrown into the mix), and certain nuances are carried over.

Like with any Warriors game, Age of Calamity has a post-game. This spawns some of the usual extra quests and missions that are harder than the final boss. It also spawns a large quest chain, and completing it unlocks the time traveling Guardian as a playable character. Based on the character select grid, there’s one character I never figured out how to unlock. Knowing my luck, I would need to complete everything as a prerequisite, and since there are no damage challenges, that’s not gonna happen in my case!

The reason why it took me until almost the end of the year to put this review out is because of Age of Calamity’s Expansion Pass. Since this DLC isn’t involved enough to warrant a whole review, like with Pokémon Sword and Shield’s, I had to wait to discuss each of them here! The first wave of DLC unlocks Robbie and Purah’s Research Lab. This includes a whole extra set of requests, most of which require a new type of material called research papers, which are basically earned just by doing your usual thing. The rewards are REALLY good, and like a lot of Nintendo DLC, feel like something that would be a  middle finger to those who already beat the base game. Rewards also include a weapon for Link that’s literally two Guardian legs stitched together, the motorcycle from Breath of the Wild’s DLC for Zelda, and—the most important thing—a Guardian as a playable character. Unfortunately, the research requests can be very grindy, often requiring vast numbers of resources as well as defeating a specific number of enemies with specific items. This DLC also causes Vicious Monster encounters to spawn at random throughout the world. Each region’s fight is the same, with the exception of the Vicious Monster itself. The difficulty level for some of these can be well above what you should be at for the main story. You can still fight them, but they’re hard enough even when properly levelled. What makes these fights hard is that elemental enemies infinitely spawn, and you can get juggled between them. At the very least, this makes these stages great for grinding Rod ammo. 

The second set of DLC makes little-to-no sense to me. What it’s supposed to be is a series of hidden memories stored inside the time travelling Guardian. This starts with a short level from its perspective, which makes sense considering that they are its memories. However, after that is just a series of one-off fights, implied to have taken place during the second act of the story, that the Guardian isn’t even involved in (with the exception of the final mission). It makes no sense that everyone else wouldn’t have remembered these battles, and even less sense as to why the time traveller alone recalls them. 

In terms of gameplay, these missions are a bit of a pain. Each has a bonus objective, one of which is always hidden until you magically happen upon it. Beating these extra missions, along with the bonus objectives, nets you some powerful upgrades to the characters’ movepools. Finishing the campaign unlocks Robbie and Purah as a tag-team playable character, which is quite worth it if I do say so myself.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 9.25/10

For a bunch of cobbled together assets made to tide us over for the sequel that we actually care about, Age of Calamity isn’t just a great game; it’s the best Warriors experience I have ever played. It’s still grindy, however, but there’s no achievement system for getting everyone to max level (and other headaches like that). I recommend it to any Zelda fan who isn’t The Completionist (and if he’s already played Age of Calamity, at least it’s not as bad as Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition).

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles: I MISS THIS SERIES SO MUCH

PREFACE: I originally split this review into two parts, the first of which I recently deleted. The reason was that I wanted to jump in on the hype of Great Ace Attorney, but I couldn’t possibly beat both games in time. I’m sorry for not keeping my usual standards to heart. My second part of the review was so awful, I decided to shift gears to a full, proper review. I hope you enjoy it!


Time for a long story. While this is the first Ace Attorney game I’m covering on my blog, this is definitely NOT the first Ace Attorney game I’ve played. In fact, I’ve played through these games with my sister for years. Thing is, that was way before I had this blog. We played up through Spirit of Justice (with the exception of the Edgeworth games, but thankfully NintendoCaprisun had his videos of them for us), but that was five years ago. Now, we both have jobs. However, that didn’t stop us from squeezing what little time we had for a massive and unexpected adventure: an official U.S. release of The Great Ace Attorney spinoff series, with HD remasters for the Switch. 

In The Great Ace Attorney, we turn back the clock to the early 1900s, to Phoenix Wright’s ancestor, Ryunosuke Naruhodo. His lawyering career begins when he has to defend himself after a man is shot to death while he happens to be holding a gun found at the scene. Thus starts a saga that continues for generations.

The story structure will seem pretty familiar; episodic cases that build up to a bigger plot. And similar to the Edgeworth spinoffs, this one plays with your expectations. In fact, despite the lack of returning characters, The Great Ace Attorney felt very emotionally tense, considering its entirely new setting and cast. Some cases feature a jury (who actually exist this time, unlike Apollo’s game), and they change their minds a lot, making trials even more nerve-wracking when the scale leans toward guilt. While there are no straight-up bad cases, the third case is definitely where the game starts in earnest.

The writing in The Great Ace Attorney is great as always. From wry humor, to raw emotion, and spine-tingling suspense, Capcom once again demonstrates their writing prowess (if only that carried over to other games (*cough* Monster Hunter Stories 2 *cough*)). However, there are some big changes in the overall feel, more so due to this localization. And if I may write one more sentence, I’ll have an excuse to elaborate in a nice and organized new paragraph.

First off, the localization retcons the Ace Attorney universe. The main games have been set in an ambiguous country that could pass as just about anywhere, with the U.S. localization being set somewhere in California. However, The Great Ace Attorney universe doesn’t just scream Japan, but other countries as well. Fortunately, you aren’t required to know anything about old-timey world culture in order to solve a case, but Japanese honorifics are used without explanation.

Furthermore, the humor is very… hm, at times. It’s the 1900s, which means… racism. Ace Attorney has never held back on stereotypes, but it’s really nasty here. Foreigners act like Japan is a massive sh**hole, like an anime fan who hates ecchi. Their culture is even insulted right in the middle of their most supreme courtroom. You’re meant to chalk it up to English people being hotiy-toity, but I actually own a Japanese mythology research book, written at around that time, by an Englishman who fell in love with Japan, even shaming his own culture in one chapter. But when the story shifts to the U.K. itself, even our Japanese intrepid heroes act as if their own nation is a sh**hole. The U.K. definitely has the more advanced technology, but they even imply that the country has a richer history, which is a very subjective thing that’s neither right nor wrong (and is probably just meant to hype up London in the context of the story and I shouldn’t be reading into it this hard). 

ANYWAY, the characters, despite being all newcomers, stand within Ace Attorney’s cast as my favorite in any visual novel franchise. Ryunosuke is another new face, and I mean NEW. The first case isn’t just his first case as a lawyer, but he’s also had no experience in law whatsoever. He has a really unique arc where he gradually acquires the confident Ace Attorney animations we know and love over the course of the first case, and it’s wonderful to see. The Maya Fey of this game is a waifu named Susato, who is a bit of a kuudere; she’s condescending in a deadpan way, but some Maya-like qualities shine through at times (and she often proves herself a better lawyer than Ryunosuke). The Gumshoe is none other than Sherlock Holmes. Yes, I know the text says “Herlock Sholmes”, but if you play with Japanese audio, he is referred to as Sherlock Holmes. Based on this, I assume the reason for a lack of localization was a copyright thing, similar to the Stands in Jojo. In any case, he’s as confident as he is wrong about his deductions, i.e. he’s wrong a LOT but loves himself nonetheless. As much as I love Gumshoe, this guy grew on me very quickly. Screw it; he’s my favorite detective in the series, second only to Gumshoe (sorry Ema). Our prosecutor is Barok van Zieks. As one of the hunkiest antagonists thus far, he behaves like a scarier, more aggressive Klavier Gavin, where he’s sometimes willing to help the defense if things happen to go a certain way in the trial.

While the first game is great, the second game—Resolve—is truly a work of art. It’s the first linear sequel in the series, being a direct continuation from the first game, Great Ace Attorney Adventures. Resolve is easily as intense as Edgeworth 2 and Spirit of Justice. Resolve introduces the designated “case from a long time ago that started everything”, and this latest—or rather, first—incident is of a serial killer called The Professor.

Whenever I think they have run out of ways to play Ace Attorney, Capcom manages to surprise me. The Great Ace Attorney tries (no pun intended) fun new ideas both in and out of court. For instance, multiple witnesses can take the stand at once, and have their own testimonies. As a result, one person can have a reaction to what the other person says, and naturally, it’s a good idea to pursue that nervous tick. Unfortunately, this mechanic might be one of my least favorite gimmicks in the series. With one exception, each instance has a big “!” pop up, so it’s not even a case of having to know their poses enough. Also, it requires suspension of disbelief because the court itself proves to be the most braindead it has ever been. One example is when a witness is seen practically strangling another witness right on the stand. I know that Ryunosuke is supposed to have powers of observation, but you don’t need that power to notice these tells.

In trials with a jury present, you also have the power of the Summation Exam. Basically, when the jury unanimously votes guilty (which, in series tradition, will happen often), you get to hear their reasoning. At this juncture, you take a pair of statements from the jurors’ that contradict one another, and reveal said contradiction. Ryunosuke paces like a badass when tearing their reasoning apart, and it feels really good. The one dumb thing about it is that you’re warned not to press anyone during the tutorial, but you actually will need to press jurors for every solution after the first examination.

What’s extra super fun is the Deductions. Sherlock has a ridiculously over-the-top routine where he makes a wildly incorrect series of statements about an NPC, and it’s up to you to correct them by examining the NPC, the location, or by presenting evidence. These sequences kind of take a while, since you basically have to go through them twice, one to hear the initial take and two to correct it, but they’re awesome.

As a spinoff, Great Ace Attorney proves to be very difficult because it plays with your expectations of the series’ tropes. If there’s any pro-tip I feel like I should give, it’s to REALLY examine any new evidence as soon as you receive it. There aren’t many times where they’re like “If you didn’t examine any evidence you should do it now”, either. Also, dialogue in a specific case is actually affected by whether or not you examined a piece of evidence at the earliest opportunity. 

For a port made from the ground up during a thing-I-should-probably-not-bring-up-because-you’re-probably-sick-of-seeing-it-attributed-to-things-that-shouldn’t-have-anything-to-do-with-it, The Great Ace Attorney looks beautiful. The models are as on-point as always, but the environments are lovelier than ever, thanks to the Switch. They even have light sources flickering just like they would be in that time period. 

Unfortunately, this game probably has the weakest soundtrack I’ve heard in the whole series. Some of the character themes are good, but by keeping true to the time, I feel like they might’ve trapped themselves. And worst of all, the “Pursuit” theme shows up the least often in this game. Maybe that’s because of Ryunosuke’s character arc, but it still stinks.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 9.75/10

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles was a better duology than I could have ever imagined. And the worst part about it is that it’s over; no more Susato Takedown, and no more Holmes. And until the mysterious seventh core Ace Attorney game comes out, there’s no more of the series as a whole right now. But as much as I loved these games, finishing lifts a weight off me because of how much harder it is to schedule play sessions. Regardless, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is a must for series veterans. That’s just elementary, my dear fellows.