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.

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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).

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.

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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.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 can Either be a Decent JRPG or a Min-Maxing Hellhole. Take Your Pick.

I was always interested in the Monster Hunter series ever since I watched one of my relatives play one of the 3DS installments. The problem is that I’m a filthy casual, and that franchise has way too much depth for my puny brain to comprehend (and for frame of reference, Pokémon is probably the most complicated franchise I have ever played). However, I did find out about the anime-AF spinoff series, Monster Hunter Stories, right on time for its sequel, Monster Hunter 2: Wings of Ruin, to come out. As such, I decided—spur of the moment—to try Monster Hunter Stories 2, my first ever Monster Hunter game!

In Monster Hunter Stories 2 (after some privacy policy mumbo jumbo, because that’s what gaming is these days apparently), the main protagonist and their tribe are enjoying some festivities, which happens to go south because videogames. Apparently, a flock of wild Rathalos decided to fly south for the winter… or something, and that means the titular Wings of Ruin is afoot… I guess? 

It’s a JRPG. Ergo, the story will take more than a hot minute to get started. Early on, most of it consists of required errands where you go to an area and fight a specific type of enemy. Before long, you will go to the actual main dungeon and fight the boss, where you get actual plot progression.

The actual plot involves you meeting a Wyverian waifu named Ena, who gives you a special Rathalos egg. This egg contains a Rathalos very similar to the Wings of Ruin, and everyone wants it dead because of Original Sin logic. And, well, that’s about as deep as it gets. This game really feels like it was meant for an audience much younger than the regular games, because it’s about as subtle as a Saturday morning cartoon, with predictable developments, and a lot of smooth-brain moments.

And it gets worse. The product tagline of “Will your bonds bring hope or destruction?” implies that you can make a series of decisions, and raise your Rathalos in a way to influence its power toward the light or dark side. Sadly, that doesn’t happen. In fact, there are ZERO prompts for your player to add to the dialogue whatsoever. Spoiler alert, they completely cop out on moral ambiguity by revealing the actual Wings of Ruin to be a completely different entity. There’s also a weird cult that never gets fleshed out at all; in fact, you only deal with them thrice in the game.

The cast, unfortunately, is the weakest aspect, and unlike my usual pickiness, I have a pretty darn good reason for it this time. Your main character, being fully customizable, is completely silent and reactionary. However, they did a good job at making them very expressive. Also, there is a nice detail where your grandfather, Red, will have the same type of eyes in flashbacks, taking into account how Wyverian NPCs mistake you for him because of your eyes. You also gain a talking cat follower in the form of Navirou, who has no shortage of funny lines. His arc, however, makes me feel like this is a direct sequel to the first game, because Navirou knows 80% of the plot relevant characters really well for no reason, and his own backstory is super glossed over.

Sadly, that’s where the positives end. Ena is pretty much there. She gives you the egg, and that’s about it. She’s not even a party member, and hangs out in the most recent town while you do all the legwork. And boy oh boy… it actually gets worse.

This game is structured like everyone’s definitely-not-least-favorite Final Fantasy game, Mystic Quest. Just like that game, you get one extra party member who sticks with you for a specific arc. And as such, the 100+ hours of bonding time you get with your crew is not in this game, resulting in some flat characters. You get their backstories at very arbitrary points, and they’re all very generic to the point where it doesn’t even feel like they tried. The sole ally I liked was Reverto, who had a Californian exterior but a very down-to-earth interior. 

Overall, there are a lot of character developments that happen way too fast, as if they were just checking off items on that list of tropes. Even things like discrimination against Monsties end in seconds flat. Ironically, the main protagonist actually gets the most character development out of anyone; they make mistakes, and learn to work through them. The issue is that a lot of those mistakes are really arbitrary things that don’t have to do with gameplay at all, and it just feels like they came up with any excuse for characters to dunk on you in order to act like they have an actual arc (Geez, way to dispute your previous statement, self). 

And the cherry on this smelly peanut-butter-ketchup-sundae is the voice acting. These gaming reviews have made me more willing to play JRPGs with the dub, and my ears have paid for it. Monster Hunter Stories 2 has a pretty bland dub, with characters sounding quite unremarkable. I only liked Navirou and Reverto’s voice acting and no one else’s.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 has your essential JRPG mechanics: questing, crafting, buying new gear, forging and upgrading gear, etc. Only, as with the main series, it’s insanely complicated. For starters, there are a LOT of weapon types, each catered to different playstyles. Forging and upgrading equipment is interesting, since each item requires a specific assortment of resources. There’s no specific quantities needed; you just need to use enough to gain the “points” needed to do the deed. Rarer materials get more points, but excess points are wasted completely. 

The thing to keep an eye on is armor. Each piece of armor can have its own passive skills. But more importantly, keep in mind that there is no base defense stat. The only defense you get from armor is some amount of resistance—and weakness—to one of the game’s many elements, including the non-elemental element. This causes every piece of equipment to become very situational. But unlike Xenoblade Chronicles X, you can save MANY equipment presets to be changed on the fly for their specific uses.

Exploration in Monster Hunter Stories 2 is both great and iffy. The positives consist of how chock full of stuff the world is. Every second is generally spent picking up materials or going into randomly spawning Monster Dens for eggs. There are also Everdens; fixed Monster Dens that contain Bottle Caps, which are exchanged for VERY worthwhile rewards.

However, that’s about where the positives end. Xenoblade really effing spoiled me on RPG worlds, because… maaaan… they just don’t make ‘em like Xenoblade anymore. The layouts in Monster Hunter Stories 2 are very basic and “videogamey”, with only one way to get from any point A to point B. What doesn’t help are the Ride Actions. These are field abilities that allow you to reach specific areas. While the game is nice enough to let you quick switch to a Monstie that has the ability when you’re at the area you can interact with, it is a pain to round out your party with varied Ride Actions and type coverages. And if you don’t have the ability, then you gotta go back to town and change out with a Monstie who does have it. 

Now, lett’s actually talk about Pokémon—I mean—Monsties. You obtain them by going into Monster Dens and sneaking off with an egg (child abduction is totes legit in this world). Hatched Monsties can be named and organized at the stable. Unfortunately, hatching is kind of a gacha system, where some Monsties will get better perks than others. You’ll have to learn various visual cues while kidnapping other monsters’ children in order to deduce how good it’ll turn out. Unfortunately, one thing you can’t predetermine is the bingo board of Monstie genes. This is a randomly generated 3×3 grid of abilities. The actual movepools of Monsties are the same, but a lot of other abilities are very random. Lining up genes of the same element and attack style gives the Monstie a permanent damage bonus, and the occasional rainbow gene acts as the free space in bingo.

Speaking of genes… oh boy. Prepare for one of the easiest to learn and hardest to master systems of min-maxxing I have ever seen (Pokémon’s still worse though). When you unlock the Rite of Channeling, you can choose to essentially kill a Monstie to allow one gene on its chart to be transferred over to another Monstie. Blank spaces are free to receive any gene, and copies of a gene can be stacked to upgrade it. Getting bingo bonuses will increase that attribute damage done by a Monstie. If you couldn’t tell, this gets insane and requires a LOT of grinding, since you will need to hatch Monsties just to level them up and learn the genes you want to transfer. Grinding gets easier as it goes, especially since a lot of bulletin board quests can be done over and over again for XP and money, and Monstie Expeditions become an important asset for those cooped up in the stable. 

So, combat is really complicated. You fight alongside your Monsties, and whoever your battle buddy happens to be. When attacking, you can use either the Power, Technical, or Speed style. If you’re attacking an opponent who will target you next, it’ll trigger a rock-paper-scissors match, with the victor gaining a damage advantage based on the matchup between who uses what style. This effect is even better if you and your Monstie both use an attack type that wins the rock-paper-scissors thing. Attacks, as well as successful rock-paper-scissor-ing, charges up the Kinship Gauge, which functions as MP. Most skills that consume this gauge can also be used in either of the three attack styles. Monsties run on A.I., and while you can consume Kinship to order them to use a move, there is no cost if they use it on their own.

Oh, and similar to the Ys games, enemies can have weaknesses and resistances to one of three weapon types, those being slash, blunt, and piercing (yes, there are less types of weapon damage than actual weapon types).  There are also the aforementioned elements to worry about, and getting hit by a supereffective element shows up as an orange number. Enemies can also change up their attack patterns and weaknesses mid-battle through actions, such as using a rock as a shield. Fortunately, this isn’t a problem since you can hold up to three weapons that can be switched mid-battle without using up your actual turn. Like with Xenoblade X, specific parts of an enemy can be broken to guarantee an item drop. Sometimes, breaking monster parts can topple them. Monsters that can be hatched have conditions to increase their chances of retreating, which spawns a small den that’s guaranteed to have that species’ egg. However, some exceptionally rare monsters can be hatched, but are unable to be retreated, meaning… good luck with that.

Things get even more complicated with the Ride On ability. This only activates when the Kinship Gauge is full. Using it restores a lot of HP to both rider and Monstie, and gives a stat buff. Kinship Skills in this mode are powerful, even moreso when your ally uses theirs in conjunction with you. Win rock-paper-scissors to level up the Kinship Gauge in this mode, allowing for even stronger moves. Unfortunately, your battle buddy always uses their Kinship Skill immediately, and you’ll have to work around that.

Despite being all cute and kiddy, Monster Hunter Stories 2 is tough. The first chapter is dirt easy, but after that, you’re pretty much expected to understand how the game works. This includes nuances that aren’t taught, such as the fact that Kinship Skills are guaranteed to cancel ANY enemy attack, including the yellow and brown ones that aren’t affected by rock-paper-scissors. If you’re unlucky on your first time, you could end up wearing armor that’s weak to whatever the next story battle is (that happened to me a lot). 

Another issue is your Rathalos. This is probably intentional for story reasons, but your Rathalos is baggage early on. It won’t learn certain abilities until much later in the game, even if it actually levels up enough to learn them. Plus, it has no Ride Actions starting off. One of the worst examples is in biomes where you’re inflicted with a permanent debuff. You’re encouraged to get Monsties that resist those debuffs, as well as armor yourself to protect from them, otherwise you need to buy and use specific consumables to mitigate it. The stupid thing is that you can’t box the Rathalos, so regardless of what you do to account for those debuffs… you still gotta use the items for the Rathalos! And it doesn’t even save on uses, since one is enough to apply to the whole team.

Oh, and being a turn-based RPG with A.I., expect your allies to be among your biggest enemies. Their behavior varies wildly. I’ve had them adapt perfectly to changes in enemy patterns, as well as picking the style with disadvantage after clearly establishing that pattern. They are also inconsistent as to when they decide to use a healing item. 

The biggest nuance I’ve had to get used to compared to most JRPGs is the Heart system. These are like lives in an arcade-style platformer. Instead of having to use an item to revive people, they just get back up and consume a Heart. You lose if either your team or your battle buddy’s is fully depleted of their Hearts. It becomes less of an issue once you’re able to freely obtain Vital Essences, which restore Hearts. Due to this system, fighting by yourself isn’t as nerve-wracking, but it’s still about as tedious as any JRPG not built around the idea of having one character.

You’d think it’d be time to give the final score, right? Well, too bad; I forgot to go over audio and visual presentations. Being an anime-style JRPG, it’s kind of… eh, especially since it’s a studio as beloved as Capcom. The areas don’t just look basic, but similar to games of this kind (*cough* Ys *cough*), they chug despite the lesser textures. Of course, if you’re a proud Switch owner, you’d be used to it, but considering that games like Smash run way better with more intricate visuals kind of says something about this game. To make up for this, the Monsters have a ton of personality in them, especially with the special moves (which, for some reason, are when the game runs the smoothest). Oh, and the equipment has some of my favorite equipment designs in all of videogames because of how much thought is put into them making them actually LOOK like the monster materials they’re built from. The music is sufficient, but there really isn’t any one song that I would be willing to bop to (Xenoblade has REALLY spoiled me). The overworld has no music, but unfortunately, there really isn’t enough ambience to make an immersive atmosphere. 

JRPGs have at least gotten better at having substantial postgames. After beating Monster Hunter Stories 2, it gets a lot longer… but in a bad way. You unlock the Elder’s Lair, which is a ten-story dungeon where you have to accomplish various tasks in order to advance. At the end is the game’s superboss. The thing is that the prep-work is where it gets obnoxious. High-Rank Monsters spawn in new high rank Dens, marked by red crystals covering the entrance, which gives you the ability to infinitely farm Bottle Caps. Thanks to this, you will be able to purchase unlimited amounts of Stimulants and Nutriments used to min-max stats. Also, High-Rank materials… *sigh* allow you to get better versions of EVERY EQUIPMENT PIECE IN THE GAME. And the best part? They all require Weapon and Armor Spheres, found only through Monstie Expeditions, and rarely in High-Rank areas. I might slowly work toward finishing this monstrosity (haha pun), but I’m not making any promises, especially since this game is no Xenoblade.

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Final Verdict: 8.45/10

Monster Hunter Stories 2 has a lot going for it: great combat, great replayability, an extremely customizable playstyle, and PLENTY to do. However, that’s about it for positives. The story isn’t that epic either. Plus, a lot of dungeons—even story ones—recycle room layouts like nobody’s business. I only recommend it if gaming is your job, otherwise there are plenty of other super-long JRPGs to devote your precious time to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Final Verdict: 8.75/10

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

Bravely Default II: It’s… a Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 7.35/10

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

Trails of Cold Steel III is so Stressful I Don’t Know if I can Finish It (let alone the Series)

When I first saw the announcement of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III coming to the Nintendo Switch, I was flabbergasted. They are all part of a continuous narrative, so why push people to play a game in the latter half of the story? Well, given how Cold Steel II ended, Cold Steel III is revealed to be a much more viable entry point than I thought. HOWEVER, I will be spoiling plot aspects of both previous games, as well as expecting you to know basic gameplay mechanics. Read my review of the first game if you are interested in the franchise. Unfortunately, if you couldn’t tell from the title of the post… I have some issues with this one.

When we last left our intrepid hero, Rean Schwarzer, he concluded his first year at Thors Military Academy by fighting a palette swap of the first game’s final boss that LITERALLY HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE OVERARCHING PLOT (sorry, still salty about that). With the war over (at least as far as Erebonia is concerned), what could possibly go wrong? Well, a year later, in a suburban town west of Heimdallr called Leeves, Rean becomes an instructor of a new Class VII to take on an old threat: literally Ouroboros again.

Cold Steel III comes off as fanfic-like at the start. In fact, things wind down so much that this is perhaps the slowest opening—narrative-wise—in the series so far. The war is over, people have graduated… if it weren’t for the flash-forward intro, similar to the first game, I wouldn’t have been willing to believe that III had a plot at all. Fortunately, it does do some good things, one of which is including tons of areas entirely new to the franchise. From Sutherland Province, to Crossbell (which has a lot of references to the Japan-only Crossbell games that Western players will be hopelessly confused by), you will be visiting locations that have been merely mentioned in previous games. Erebonia feels bigger than it ever did before! 

Furthermore, there are a number of new, big plot developments. Thanks to being able to experience Crossbell firsthand, we finally get to see just how much weight Erebonia has been placing on the small province. It is quickly made apparent that the war is far from over, and things ramp up like they never have before. We also get some much-needed insight on the Gnomes, Black Workshop, and Hexen Clan.

But at this point, the series starts to become more like its JRPG cousins, and by that, I mean it has more of the soap-opera-like plot twists that make no sense (For example (SPOILERS): Crow is alive, and George is evil (END SPOILERS)). Also, I realized that you can’t really get by with Cold Steel alone. I began to lose track of all the different terms and factions, and it got to the point where I was straight-up lost in the plot. Whatever they’ve been building up to is something that began since the first Trails of Heroes (or whatever it’s called). If I actually played all—what, ten?—of these 80+ hour apiece JRPGs, I’d probably have all the familiarity I need to truly understand the series.

New school means an entirely new student body, and new towns means entirely new NPCs. Since you’re expected to have grown attached to the cast of the first two games over the course of 160-200 hours, Cold Steel III has the hardest cast of characters to like. Fortunately, it does a good job of distributing familiar faces. For example, one of the new Class VII members is actually Altina from the second game. Also, the Principal is the sexy General, Aurelia le Guin. People like Alfin, Elise, Sharon, and more all appear (and Prince Cedric actually DOES stuff for the first time in the series). For the record, I ended up really not liking—or rather, not understanding—Alisa’s mom more than ever. While she always had a weird way of loving her daughter even though she seemed like a crappy parent, Sharon’s backstory (SPOILERS) that she actually murdered Alisa’s dad, Alisa’s mom knew this, and yet… raised Sharon as her own? God, even by JRPG standards that’s a leap in logic… (END SPOILERS)

In any case, a Cold Steel game is a Cold Steel game, and the new faces end up being loveable enough. Overall, it was hilarious to see Rean’s new students react to all the different tidbits about him, such as all the famous people (and women) he knows. Juna is an interesting case; she’s from Crossbell, which doesn’t exactly have the best impression of Erebonia. However, Altina and Kurt ended up being kind of underwhelming by the series’ standards. The former comes off as a PTSD waifu that the MC has to teach to “have a soul” through “wove”, and Kurt is basically a combination of Cold Steel I Rean and Machias. Also, a lot of the other students outside of the new Class VII were pretty unremarkable as well. Fortunately, my favorite quickly ended up being Freddy. Who doesn’t love a beady-eyed weirdo who cooks bugs?

Many Thors alumni appear in the game. We get to see the adult forms of the old Class VII, as well as other students. The thing that they all have in common is that they haven’t changed, and they’re all very physically attractive (seriously freaking adult Elliot is a smexy boy right out of Liberty’s Kids). Surprisingly enough, the OG Class VII still has some new stuff for us to learn, even after all this time. The game makes up for its low amount of total party members by having some of the old gang appear as temporary party members.

Unfortunately, I had some issues with the way the characters were handled (other than the fact that you get way too many character notes). Character development was all over the place. A lot of the time, it felt like the game actively disliked the main party members. Like I said before, old characters become guest party members throughout the game. However, they always end up at higher levels, with more well-rounded abilities, as well as the whole “temporary” thing adding incentive to use them. New players will likely gravitate to them just for the manpower, and it kind of undermines the actual new characters. You could argue that it’s symbolic; it shows that new Class VII has a long way to go before they can match O.G. Class VII, but it doesn’t help that there are entire in-game days that are spent entirely with members of the original gang.

Furthermore, I feel like they mucked up Reany-Beany a bit. First off, a major event happens in between Cold Steel II and III: the Northern War. You get to see a bit of this at the end of Cold Steel II, but it’s basically a hostile takeover of a country called Northern Ambria. It’s such an important event, and it’s mentioned so often that I thought it was its own game. I came to realize that the whole thing was made to justify re-learning Rean’s Spirit Unification (okay maybe it’s not the WHOLE reason), and it felt kind of weak.

Things have improved substantially in terms of audio and visuals. With this being the first game in the series released on PS4, the visuals have the stylized look that has become the standard for anime JRPGs. The models are all updated, and they look amazing. From the fabrics of clothing, to lighting, I can finally feel truly immersed in the world Zemuria. The soundtrack is around the same quality, but it feels much less intrusive than in previous games.

Before we get into gameplay, I must make a quick declaration. If you are marathoning this on PS4… BUY THE DIGITAL GAME FROM THE PLAYSTATION STORE. The physical edition of Cold Steel III does not give you the DLC, unlike the digital version (and MacBurn taught me that I NEED all fifty Zeram Capsules if I’m gonna beat all four of these games). The Switch version does have the DLC, but I read (on an Amazon question) that the fourth game will include the same save data carryover mechanic from Cold Steel II, but APPLIED TO ALL THREE PREVIOUS GAMES. Use these factoids to decide which version you want. If you do buy the game digitally, keep in mind that the stupid expensive deluxe edition only comes with exclusive cosmetic DLC, but none of the item-based DLC (yours truly learned that the hard way). So if you only want your fifty Zeram Capsules, buy the standard version. Also, it’s sad to say that Turbo Mode is no longer with us. Press F for respect. To compensate, you can use the Options button to skip cutscenes.


Daily Life

There is one immediate difference with your Orbment settings: the ability to have two Master Quartzes at once… sort of. The second Master Quartz slot is for a Sub-Master Quartz. Whatever Master Quartz is set to the Sub slot will be much weaker, but still immensely helpful, especially since there seem to be less slots for regular Quartz in this game. The cool thing is that you can equoi something as a Sub-Master Quartz while it’s equipped as someone else’s main Master Quartz without actually taking it OFF of that person. It helps streamline Quartz management and makes it a LOT easier to level up multiple Master Quartz at once. Another thing about Master Quartzes is that there are a lot of new ones (fortunately, Moebius is still in this game. Thank Aidios). Heck, there aren’t just new Master Quartzes, but new Arts as well. It was really jarring to relearn all of this stuff. In fact, it might’ve been easier if this was my first game in the series. 

Since we’re back at square one, we have to open slots on the Arcus units all over again. Fortunately, as long as you get Septium Vein as soon as possible, you can easily max out everyone’s slots. But… that doesn’t mean you’re done with Sepith. Not even close. All Quartzes can now be used at an Orbment facility to be upgraded into their rarer form with the usual stat boosts. You need three regulars to get a rare, and three rares to get a super-rare. That’s a lot, especially if you want more than one. Also, U-Materials are needed to this, making them more valuable than ever. The other thing is that you can trade rare Quartzes at the pawn shop to get one-of-a-kind Quartzes that are usually obtained in quests… including duplicates. I was able to get three Septium Veins pretty quickly (which only needs a rare Crest and a few U-Materials) and have the amount of money I normally have by endgame by the end of the third chapter. This is an interesting system because it makes you decide if you want to grind to get a powerful Quartz early, or wait until you get it for free. It’s a tough call, especially when you unlock the ability to obtain the Gem series of Quartzes, which are more broken than ever.

In addition to the usual junk, scenes called Sub Events now need to be sought out. They’re generally marked on the map, unless there are hidden ones I don’t know about. The bathhouse in the dorm always triggers one such event, so use it whenever it’s available. While some of them seem meaningless, I like doing all of them because it feels good.

Just because you’re an instructor now doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about AP anymore. In fact, you also have to worry about the academy’s Campus Enhancement Rating. Basically, completing quests specifically related to the school (which have their own section titled “Branch Campus Quests”) as well as doing the aforementioned bathhouse events increases this number. AP and CER contribute to two separate ranking systems, which doubles the rewards as well as the stress.

Speaking of extra rewards and stress, reporting character notes, battle notes, and book notes now nets you rewards. As usual with the games, some Bonding Events yield character notes and some do not, making save-scumming a must if you want to get 100% (btw one person’s character notes are obtained out of sequence for no reason). I literally drove myself insane making sure I talk to everyone, and even with save-scumming for Bonding Events, I missed several notes. Since the final reward is most likely a Master Quartz, I will never get 100% in those either. Oh, and milestones also increase Campus Enhancement, making a THIRD thing I couldn’t 100%!

Bonding gets more complicated than before. In addition to your disgustingly limited Bonding Events, Cold Steel III adds Gifts. These are sold in various shops, and can be given to a specific character directly from the inventory screen. to increase your Bond with them. Some of these Gifts expire, so I’d make sure you have a pretty far wad of cash on you at all times. Also, the nakama power you get from bonding no longer goes to your link level; instead, it goes to a separate Bond Level, which measures just how 007 you are. Okay, maybe that last part was a joke… In actuality, increasing Bond Levels does… nothing? Kind of a disappointment. But at the very least, this new way of handling relationships finally gives an even balance between Rean and everyone else’s link levels.

Fishing has changed substantially. First off, instead of Angler Points, you trade specific species of fish for goods. Plus, you can buy upgrades to your fishing capabilities. “But fishing is easy in these games!” you think. Well, the mechanics are a lot newer and a lot harder now. The amount of fish you can get is based solely on your bait count (which can FINALLY be purchased for Mira instead of five U-Materials). When you fish, you must press the circle button when the arrow points to a specific line on the circle. The great thing about this is that you have to press the circle button when it lines up with a line that has blue, green, and yellow sections (in order of difficulty to hit). At first, I thought the smaller, yellow section meant rarer fish. But no, this part determines the rarity of what the fish drops, which I found to be a great improvement. Instead of mashing face buttons, you hold the circle button to reel the fish in. The line can break if you hold it for too long, especially if the fish is mad while you’re doing it. But since you’re able to catch such wildly different fish at once, knowing if you have caught all the fish you can at a given point in the game is next to impossible.

Recipes get a new upgrade as well. In addition to finding books, you are able to try a restaurant’s recommended dish. This allows you to learn new recipes that way too. But the best improvement is that you can have people cook from outside of your party! Now you don’t have to reorganize everybody just to make a specific Unique Dish.

If things in this game couldn’t get any newer, Blade falls by the wayside like any fad among elementary schoolers and is replaced with Vantage Masters. This game is… a lot. It’s basically Yu-Gi-Oh meets Triple Triad meets Pokemon TCG. It would take a whole separate review to describe the rules, and even then it won’t make sense to you. You just gotta experiment, and find those exploits that every card game has. But since there are now visible penalties to losing, save-scumming is recommended. 

Field studies return in the form of field exercises. They’re basically exactly the same, but the entire student body goes to the location. In addition to the quests you’ll receive, the students that come with you can give additional quests that go towards the Campus Enhancement Rating. Unfortunately, they follow a much tighter formula than the first game. Basically, you start Day 1 by going down the highway to receive your requests, then you do those requests, along with an investigation report, to finish the day. The bad guys of that particular arc attack at the end of the first day, and then Rean is forced to spend Day 2 fighting those bad guys with several Old Class VII members. While there is a little variance, I did not welcome this dip in variety.

Just when they couldn’t add any more to do, they did. Munk is now working at Radio Trista, Rosine is apparently a secret service nun (which is a scene I missed in the previous game?), and Vivi is a journalist. Munk wants material for his radio shows, which are obtained from NPCs that have Sub Event icons over them. Rosine wants the Black Records, which are found as treasures. Vivi wants photogenic, well, photographs of nature. Turn these in by calling them on the ARCUS, which can also be used to check mail and stuff.


Deadly Life

Many new mechanics are introduced right off the bat. One is the new Charm status effect. It’s like Confuse, except that they ONLY attack allies. Obviously very sexy and very dangerous. Also new is the Break system. This functions just like the Ys series and Octopath Traveler; hit people enough it reduces their defenses to nothing while stunning them for a turn. Inflicting Break will make enemies lose their next turn, guarantee item drops, and make every regular attack and Craft Unbalance them. 

Ever feel like you have too many Bravery Points? Well, now you can spend them on Brave Orders on any character’s turn. They don’t actually use that turn, so it’s objectively good to do. They provide all sorts of useful effects to the whole party, after all. Also, you can earn Bravery Points as turn bonuses now, as well as receive a bonus that lets you use Brave Orders for free. This makes it much more difficult to decide if you want to use Burst. Fortunately, using Burst does increase Break damage by 900%, making it a good panic button if you just need to Break something fast. An ideal strategy is to save up for Burst, use it at the start of a battle to Break all the enemies instantly, and then wail on them with attacks and/or Crafts to get the guaranteed Unbalance and gain back all five Bravery Points. But sometimes, the Brave Orders can turn the tide of a fight in an instant… which is why Overdrive is no longer with us.

I never mentioned the mechanics of breaking crates before, but it’s really important to do it in Cold Steel III, not that they weren’t great for grinding items in the previous games. In this game, breaking crates fills up a little charge meter. When it’s filled up enough, you can perform Assault Attacks, which greatly damage all enemies’ Break meter and give you a big advantage. The same actions that fill up the assault meter also restore CP, so make sure you always break stuff!

Mech battles are better than ever. Thanks to Mr. Schmidt, a whole slew of Panzer Soldats are now distributed to students. This means that *foams at the mouth* you get to fight with multiple mechs at once. The mechanics are largely unchanged, but it’s good to know that there are now consumable items that can be used specifically for restoring mechs. Fortunately, the EX Orb mechanic isn’t any more complicated than it was before; any EX Orb applied to Valimar affects the whole team.

The few changes that are present serve to make these fights much more difficult. Charge only restores 500 EP instead of the full thousand, for one thing. The most stressful aspect is how it handles partners. All selected partners alternate between each other. This means that you can’t have Altina spam her physical reflect shield and win every fight; you actually have to think now. My brain welcomed this change, but my heart sure didn’t. For the record, these take the place of practical exams, both on dedicated Panzer Soldat days and on optional battle during Free Days which increase Campus Enhancement.

Enemies get some new toys as well. Some can enter an Enhanced state, which comes with boosted stats at the expense of a weaker Break meter. YOU NEED TO BREAK THEM IN THIS STATE ASAP, unless you WANT your face to get ripped off. In fact, I died to the FIRST BOSS because my normal defensive plays just didn’t work. But as soon as I prioritized inflicting Break, I was able to do it. It gets much easier when everyone learns their S-Crafts. One helpful thing is that it seems like bosses can’t use S-Crafts unless they’re in their Enhanced state, allowing you to stop what are usually instant game overs.


Stressful Life

I knew it was a risk trying Trails of Cold Steel, due to the length and amount of missable content. The first two games felt manageable enough, but III pushed me over the edge. They really don’t want you to earn AP in this game. From Chapter 3 onwards, there’s a serious spike in the amount of quests with multiple outcomes. Some of them aren’t so bad, such as “win this tough battle”. But some of them are really arbitrary, such as a bike chase quest that doesn’t actually have you race with the bike but instead do a series of adventure game logic bull. Also, you will be expected to have knowledge of previous Cold Steel AND Legend of Heroes games (gee good thing they’re trying to get Switch players into the series STARTING with III), as well as some remote real-world stuff. In addition to that, some AP events feel like they require trial and error (unless I’m as dumb as a ignoramus). But hey, at least hidden quests are no longer a thing (which is ironic because this is the first time they actually warn you about them even though they’re all marked on the map)!

When I say it pushed me over the edge, I mean it. I mentioned this once on the mystery award blog, but I got autism. I’m gonna be real, when I had a rough time with AP throughout the series, I had an honest meltdown. It was about the level of a Getting Over It or Cuphead rage video. I would hit myself and the floor of my house, and it was not a good time. Normally, I wouldn’t be so salty about it, but Trails of Cold Steel IV has a true ending, and I probably need AP past a certain threshold to get it. 

“You’re not finishing a game?” you ask, “Filthy casual…” Look, I’m not a professional gamer. I rarely have time to game versus my other stuff, and so, I need to choose wisely. I need to choose something that won’t drive me to drink (since the real world is perfectly good at doing that on its own). I just don’t know if Trails of Cold Steel is worth it. What also made me consider this possibility was an even more obscure RPG, which has become one of my favorite games of all time: CrossCode. It’s tough. It has its issues (like really picky puzzle execution), but it’s a game that I can deal with. The combat is more fun to boot, and the combat was my one incentive to finish Cold Steel. Well, I still have my PS4, so if I want to finish it someday… it’ll be there.

~~~~~

Current (Possibly Final) Verdict: 9.5/10

Trails of Cold Steel III is definitely the best installment thus far. However, things are getting more stressful than ever. Going into this series without a guide is suicidal if you want to get 100%, but I should at least be proud of managing as much as I could (Oh, and since these games are so niche it’s questionable whether or not there is a good enough guide to begin with). I come off as a hypocrite, potentially dropping a game I gave such a high score. I don’t want to undersell what a well-made series Trails of Cold Steel is, it’s just not the kind of game for me. With my new gaming-oriented schedule, I’ve been branching out the different types of game I play, but ones where you can miss a lot of stuff, on top of having to worry about getting a good ending, are not ones I can tolerate. Reading this, you’ll know exactly what you’d be getting into with Cold Steel. So, look at yourself and judge accordingly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Final Verdict: 8/10

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

The Hero Is Overpowered But Overly Cautious Volume 4 Review

Last time on Cautious Hero, Rista and Seiya end up in Ixphoria, the SS Rank world that Seiya failed to save in a previous life. Rista opens a gate to make adjustments, but a werewolf breaks through. Adenela kills it, but it mutters something about having already left its mark. Seiya immediately heads to Ixphoria, saying “Everything’s going to be okay”. When they arrive, it turns out the werewolf’s attack left Seiya with amnesia, and a reckless personality. Rista manages to get him to hold back, then an old guy helps guide them to safety, where they encounter Braht, one of Seiya’s old buddies. After a bit of an argument, Seiya grabs a rusty sword and heads out to fight the boss, Bunogeos. Rista manages to turn the sword into a platinum sword, and Seiya is able to beat some of the enemies by using his high-level spells in ACTUAL combat. But Bunogeos shows up and captures them. Fortunately, Seiya is able to destroy the iron bars by headbutting them, and recovers his memory in the process. The refugees aren’t giving him a warm welcome, so Seiya beats them up (yep, he’s back alright). Unfortunately, he also hates Rista, because it was her fault that he couldn’t be perfectly prepared. He promises to defeat Bunogeos, so he changes his class to Jolly Piper, with Earth Mage as a secondary job. They sneak underground, and Seiya utilizes a makeshift spitball gun to take out the enemies. It’s super effective! They repeat this strat for a while, then seek out Bunogeos. Curiously enough, Seiya starts squealing like a pig while spying on Bunogeos. Unfortunately, they aren’t able to find a weakness before being detected, so they fight him head-on. But of course, Seiya learned the ability to change classes himself, and thus is able to make quick work of him, even when he tries to enter his second phase. When they head back to the spirit world, Seiya masters shape-shifting, turning himself into Bunogeos (the pig squealing was practice for this), and Rista into a fish beastkin. They head to Termine, where they shapeshift and join the beast squadron. Rista is sent to the former queen of Termine, Camilla (her mom), whom she is instructed to torture (she doesn’t though). The day of the ritual comes upon them, and Rista returns to her mom. However, Grandleon is there, holding a doll that Tiana (past Rista) made for her, and that’s what finally breaks her. Rista appraises it, and sees a memory of her past life. The queen is now about to be executed, and she interrupts Seiya’s ritual to get him to save her. And you know what, he decides to fight Grandleon on his own. It’s rough, but Seiya pushes his new Berserk skill to its utmost limits, and manages a narrow victory.

And guess what… there’s more where that came from! In this volume, the Machine Emperor Oxerio sends his machine corp to attack Termine. Seiya gets about as over-the-top as usual with his perfect preparedness, and disregards the public as he fortifies the city. But in addition to Oxerio, he has an evil sorceress named Celemonic to take care of in the latter half of the volume.

In fact, Seiya is more sadistic than ever. He genuinely trolls us- the readers- and shows complete disrespect towards literally everyone. When a disturbing secret regarding the killing machines is revealed, he doesn’t even bat an eye. Seriously, if you didn’t like Seiya before, then you’re only hurting yourself by continuing to put up with him. What do you think about Seiya at this point? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

As far as newcomers are concerned, we get introduced to a rogue killing machine named Kiriko, who has a kindhearted personality. There’s also the introduction of yet another goddess who continues to follow the trend of being an eccentric weirdo. As far as development of existing characters is concerned, everyone is more-or-less the same. You know the saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

I must still praise the author for not making the series so repetitive despite how simple it is. Seiya goes above and beyond, at one point showing us he doesn’t even need to be conscious in order to beat back his enemies. The solutions to problems get more over-the-top and creative than ever! But a seasoned reader like myself should know that this consistent rate in quality is likely too good to be true.

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Verdict: 9/10

Cautious Hero is on fire, as always. Bu according to the afterword, the Ixphoria Arc ends next volume. MyAnimeList still says this series is ongoing, but what could possibly happen after this? Well, I suppose the only solution is to wait and find out! 

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear Volume 2 and Infinite Dendrogram Volume 12 Reviews

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear Volume 2

Last time on Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, a girl named Yuna logs into her favorite MMO, World Fantasy Online, during a new update. She is given some game-breaking bear-themed equipment as a gift for playing for a long time, and is sent to an unfamiliar part of the game world in said bear equipment, with her level reset to 1. She saves a girl named Fina from wolves, and the two of them head to the nearest town with the mob loot. They sell it at the guild, and Yuna spends her hard-earned cash at the inn. The next day, Yuna- guess what- registers at the guild, but only after- guess what- beats some red-shirted upstarts. She then buys a ton of throwing knives, along with a sword and butchering knife, as well as some normal-people clothes. She also acquires bear-themed magic, which she practices on some wolves. She beats enough of them for it to instantly promote her to E-Rank at the guild. Some of the friends of that guy who she beat up start slandering her, and as a result, she is forced to undertake a goblin-slaying quest with them. The required amount is fifty, and she offers to fight them all herself and give them the credit so they stay off her back. She goes with the female adventurer, Rulina, defeats them all herself (double the required amount and a boss), and earns respect among the other group. Over time, Yuna defeats so many monsters that she becomes D-Rank with no effort, and hires Fina to butcher the spoils. They go on a quest to fight tigerwolves, which go down easily. Lastly, Yuna spends a heap of cash on an empty plot of land, and constructs a bear house to live in.

The bear-themed antics are just as bear-themed and… un-antic-y (professional term) as last time. Honestly, I struggled to write anything of substance in this post, and that’s why I’m pairing it with a review of Infinite Dendrogram Volume 12. The second volume of Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is almost exactly the same as the previous one.

At the current rate, it seems that it’s going to commit to being an episodic CGDCT isekai, which for some (many) people, is enough (especially with the bear onesie). Yuna visits some noble guy, which- I’ll admit- her apprehensiveness to the request was actually kind of funny. But afterwards, Fina’s mom is sick, and Yuna- being the OP protagonist she is- restores her to perfect health almost instantly. Everything happens so unceremoniously that it bores me to tears. Furthermore, the “let’s tell you the same chain of events you just saw but from Fina’s perspective” thing does not die down in this volume.

The issue really is the bland and basic writing style. While there comes a point where TOO much finesse can make you sound like a pretentious hack, not enough will make your work seem lifeless. I couldn’t be immersed in any fashion, and I could barely visualize anything besides Yuna.

You know what, Yuna really is the only thing that matters, isn’t she? She doesn’t just look adorable, but she also helps people for no reason. WHAT AN AMAZING AND NOT-AT-ALL IDEALIZED PERSON. I feel like the author expects people to love her because of how good she is. Well, us critics got a name for girls like her: Mary Sue.

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Verdict: 6/10

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is so superficial. It’s cute, it’s relaxing, but it relies entirely on Yuna’s cuteness. If she didn’t have a bear onesie this thing would not sell. All of her powers are typical stuff, but they just have the word “bear” tacked on to them; they aren’t even puns! Compare it to Invincible Shovel, which actually uses shovel-like properties, such as “digging” through people’s memories, or “burying” entire castles. My chances of reading more Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear are next to nil. I’m going to be so salty when the anime airs because I KNOW that people are gonna be all over Yuna’s bear suit and her good will, WHILE SOMETHING LEGITIMATELY GOOD AND ORIGINAL LIKE TO YOUR ETERNITY WILL GET SHAFTED BECAUSE FUUUUUUUUU-! Anyway, if you like CGDCT and isekai, then Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear will do just fine.


Infinite Dendrogram Volume 12

Last time on Infinite Dendrogram (volume 10), Ray goes to college while also having a new accessory made for him that would help him resist poison. That’s it for him. In Caldina, Hugh Lesseps gets involved with some crazy woman named AR-I-CA on a quest to find a bunch of sealed boss monsters that were stolen from Huang He. A powerful mafia called Mirage goes after them, but they become a non-issue real fast when Dancing Princess Hiuli defeats them all by herself. Gerbera, in the Gaol, also gets stronger as she trains with her new friends in Illegal Frontier, led by the King of Crimes, who is incidentally involved in what is going on at Hugh’s end. Things are looking intense, AND WE FINALLY GET TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

Er, well… not quite? The stuff that happened last time felt like setup, and this volume feels like… more setup. The developments last volume end up being ignored in favor of some new ones. First off, Figaro’s yandere girlfriend, Hannya, is released from the Gaol. She hates couples… which is why it’s so perfect that she was released during the time of a lovey-dovey festival in Gideon.

There’s also some new political developments, mainly this arranged marriage with Princess Elizabeth and one of Huang He’s princes. In order to butter them up, they hang out during the aforementioned festival. They also hint at a potential alliance with Caldina in the future, but nothing seems to come of it yet. 

The volume starts with some more insight on Kashimiya, this iai-fighting dude that we only got to see a blip of once upon a time. But after that, the bulk of it is the lovey-dovey festival. And yeah, it kind of feels like a filler volume, even moreso than the Gloria prequel fight. The interactions between the characters are genuinely cute, but this is the first time I’ve seen the overarching story get backseated this violently in Dendro

Things do ramp up toward the end; Dendro always has to have a crazy fight scene or two. But as far as character development goes, it’s really only Figaro and Hannya who get it. We do get introduced to some new Dendro A.I. but we’re still kept in the dark; in fact, the prequel volume told us more than this one did! And as usual, we still don’t get to see any of Legendaria nor Ray’s sister. 

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Verdict: 7.5/10

I don’t know what it is, but this is probably my least favorite Dendro volume so far. It’s a cute little mini-arc that set some stuff up, but it’s been a long time since something intense happened. Something big needs to happen, and fast, or this great series could REALLY become the next SAO (and I mean that in a bad way).

Pokemon Sword and Shield: Isle of Armor DLC Campaign Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Final Verdict: 7.65/10

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