Pokemon BDSP: Gen 4 But it’s Playable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Final Verdict: 9/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Final Verdict: 9.75/10

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

Metroid Dread: SA-X Chase Sequences, the Game

Have you ever heard of the videogame protagonist Samus Aran? I spent the last decade thinking of her as only a Smash Bros. character. It wasn’t until this year’s E3 that I remembered: “Oh right, she has a franchise, and an important one at that!” You’ve seen tons of metroidvania games, right? Well, her game series—Metroid—is where the genre all started. You’d think that such a monumentally important Nintendo I.P. would have a consistent track record of new releases. But after the lukewarm reception of Metroid: Other M, there hasn’t been a single tried-and-true Metroid game… until now, with Metroid Dread for Nintendo Switch (and for the record I was being sarcastic at the beginning).

Metroid Dread picks up where Fusion left off. After dealing with the X, the Federation gets sent a little TikTok of an X Parasite alive on planet ZDR. They investigate, and of course, lose contact with mission control. Time for Samus to take care of business AGAIN. Of course, it doesn’t take long for some Power Rangers villain to show up and kick Samus’ ass, making her lose her power-ups AGAIN.

Metroid Dread has a pretty standard plot for the most part. They revisit the X, which is cool, and have what I think to be the first living Chozo in the entire series, which is even cooler. But other than that, it’s your typical “run around maze-like world and do stuff” Metroid experience. It goes from zero to a hundred at the end, though. Plus, Samus is the most bad-ass she has ever been in the series.

People wanted classic 2D Metroid gameplay to return, and that’s what they got. The controls should immediately be familiar to anyone who has knowledge of the series. They even brought back hidden blocks! However, there are plenty of new toys to play with as well; it would suck if we waited this long for “just” another 2D Metroid. In addition to new power-ups, Samus can parry enemy attacks by smacking them with her arm cannon.

As a follow-up to Fusion, Metroid Dread is very scary, and very difficult. While regular combat is pretty easy, things get spicy in the E.M.M.I. Zones. Each zone has an E.M.M.I. unit within, and they REALLY wanna give Samus a shot of that COVID vaccine. But apparently, the side effects include instant death! Unless you can master the ludicrously difficult parry timing to escape, getting caught is GG. Luckily, the game has plenty of checkpoints, so it’s not a time-waster, but that fact is kind of like putting a free 1-Up at the beginning of a tough Mario level; Nintendo knew they made something that was complete BS.

Death counts will easily go into the double digits if you’re a first-timer, and aren’t good at stealth. Pretty early on, you get an item that temporarily makes you invisible, which made me think, “Well that makes things much easier.” However, there were a ton of times where I would cloak up and wait for the robot to sneak by, just for it to casually stroll right where I was. Your computer friend tells you to study their pathing carefully, but sometimes you have to think fast, and if you’re not fast enough, it’s GG. Also, there is some sort of randomness. What I think is happening is that the robot is patrolling constantly even when you’re not in the room. I think this because there were times where I came in and found the robot there, and other times where it’s wasn’t.

Fortunately, you don’t have to deal with them forever. Finding the Central Unit in each E.M.M.I. Zone and defeating the miniboss there gives you a use of the Omega Blaster. A fully charged shot from these defeats the stupid vaccine-o-trons. However, the next battle becomes finding a proper space to charge it up from, and this gets straight-up tedious.

At the very least, the boss battles are fun. They’re more complicated than past games’ strategy of spamming missiles, and they also have parry-able attacks that allow you to earn a LOT of free hits. And for the sake of nostalgia, some old friends show up once again. Just keep in mind that you take a LOT of damage in this game. Expect some tougher enemies to take up to three Energy Tanks in one hit.

Of course, nothing is more universally hated in a metroidvania than a lack of nonlinear exploration. And… *sigh* Metroid Dread is a very linear Metroid game. Not only is it linear, but it very often gates you from backtracking when you get a new upgrade. At the very least, it doesn’t straight-up hold your hand when it comes to where to go. However, they have a tendency of sneakily hiding required paths in hidden blocks. If you’re knowledgeable of the series, you should have no problem spotting them. Oh, and here’s another caveat. As you know, metroidvanias are influenced by both Metroid, and the non-linear Castlevania games (ex. Symphony of the Night). The latter had fast travel points, while Metroid never had it… and still doesn’t have it in Dread. So yeah, if you do want to get everything, prepare to do a TON of walking.

Another standout feature is that, for the first time in the entire series, the map is useful. It marks everything, from items, to types of doors, to discovered blocks, and even gives vague hints as to where an item is hidden. As nice as this is, you could argue that the charm of metroidvanias is having to decipher an intentionally unhelpful map. However, as accurate as this map is, it doesn’t give you the intrinsic skills needed to collect the items. This game has a number of obnoxious puzzles with the Shinespark, requiring mechanics new to the series that you have to figure out yourself, as well as killer reflexes.

Unfortunately, the audio and visuals leave much to be desired. While the characters look good enough, the environments are a bit bland. Nintendo’s always been better at cartoony styles, and Metroid isn’t like that. Also ,the music—other than remixes of classic tracks—is pretty forgettable. 

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

I don’t quite know what to think of Metroid Dread. For all intents and purposes, it’s a great Metroid game, albeit with some annoying insta-death scenarios. I think the circumstances around its release have colored my impressions of it, as I initially feared it would. For being the first 2D Metroid in almost twenty years, the fact that it feels like “just another Metroid game” feels kind of like a disappointment. Plus, the $60 for a game that can easily be beaten in under fifteen hours 100% is kind of yikes. The biggest caveat is that the metroidvania subgenre has exploded in the indie scene, and considerably raised the bar (while lowering the price per product). Mechanics like fast travel are pretty much expected, plus we have Hollow Knight, which is objectively one of the most non-linear games of its kind, even moreso than Super Metroid. And as fun as this game was, it’s not one I can see myself playing again, due to its linearity and obnoxious Shinespark puzzles (even if there is probably a bonus ending if you beat it faster or something, but I’m going to play the ignorance is bliss card here (also I’m not gamer enough to beat it faster)). I can’t recommend Dread for newcomers, since it expects a lot of knowledge of the series to understand its game design. Thus, I recommend it only to devout Metroid fans.

One Piece Pirate Warriors 4: A Great Game… for Fans

Hoooooo-doggie! If you’re reading this, then I’ve either completed (or, more likely, gotten tired of completing) one of the latest of the grind-heavy Dynasty Warriors crossovers: One Piece Pirate Warriors 4. I had loved the third game (to a point), and a relative gave the newest installment to me for Christmas. So, after about eight hundred hours, here we go!

One Piece is my favorite manga of all time, so I naturally knew the story going into Pirate Warriors 4. And you better know too, because you are spoiled to death regarding everything from the beginning up to Whole Cake Island. The Wano portion is game original, but you will still be spoiled on where the climax of the actual manga arc takes place (I had luckily just started that part when I played the game).

Honestly, with the amount of One Piece videogames out there, you can almost tell that they’re tired of telling the same story over and over again. The Japanese voice actors are excellent, but they even seem more “oh boy this line again” than the previous game. The dialogue is stiff and awkward, but that could be because of the localization. The cutscenes are also half-assed, even reusing some pre-rendered cutscenes from Pirate Warriors 3. Fans buy this game for the gameplay.

All five thousand hours of it!

If you haven’t played a Dynasty Warriors game, the idea is simple: you vs. eight million enemies. Maps are pretty simple, split into different rooms. There’s your allied force, the enemy force, and an occasional rogue force. Every playable character has an elaborate combo system that can be expanded upon (and you will have to memorize every single one of them). One Piece is a series where the protagonists have gone head-to-head against entire armies by themselves, so the Dynasty Warriors system works perfectly. 

In addition to your usual combos, you have JUMPING. If you jump after landing a hit, you launch nearby foes into the air and can unleash an ENTIRE EXTRA SET of midair combos. These can get absolutely obscene if performed well, but you seriously gotta memorize the moves. There are also four different special moves you can equip at once for each character. There are many types of special moves beyond the ones that freeze time and have a cinematic cutscene. Ones that provide buffs (including transformations like Gear Two) are tied to this system. There is also a Power Dodge that sends you forward and deals damage, making it a good panic button; just be wary of stamina.

The game also introduces different “types” of characters, which honestly, makes it way more complicated than it should be. All the types are pretty self-explanatory, and since you’re expected to be familiar with these guys, it’s not really an important detail. The only stand-out is Sky-types. These characters specialize in air combos, and most importantly, their Power Dodge can be used in one constant burst until stamina runs out. This can be a lifesaver since Dynasty Warriors games tend to have important events take place at opposite ends of the stage.

Like most Warriors games in general, mooks are utter jokes that you can basically look at and kill instantly. Tougher enemies have an armor gauge that must be drained to get them into a temporary vulnerable state, where they glow purple and can be comboed more easily. Of course, actual bosses are even tougher. They can have a temporary “super-shield” that doesn’t drain. But honestly, you just have to do what you always do in these games: smack it a lot!

They pretty much abandon the XP system from Pirate Warriors 3 to introduce the Growth Maps. Each “island” on them needs a lot of Beris and Coins to give them stat boosts, new abilities, and more. There’s a beginner map that applies to all characters. It’s important to prioritize getting the big stat boosts here so that new unlocks aren’t insanely weak right off the bat. In addition to the beginner map, EVERY PLAYABLE CHARACTER has TWO unique Growth Maps! I prefer this change because getting everyone to Level 100 is a far worse undertaking than maxing out all the Growth Maps. Other than these changes, Pirate Warriors 4 runs pretty much the same as others.

The environments have never been the strong suit of these games, but they at least go to lengths to make them feel more organic. The layouts, for example, are no longer sectioned into square-shaped keeps, but territories. These function the same, but can be any shape and size. The most important aspect of this is that they can get pretty large, which makes capturing them easier. They also add the ability to destroy environmental objects, which can help make navigating easier since you won’t have crap in your way.

In terms of difficulty, Pirate Warriors 4 is a bit tougher than Pirate Warriors 3 for a number of reasons. You can get juggled a lot more easily, especially in Treasure Log where you’ll be fighting more boss characters simultaneously (especially against Ace and Law). I’ve also had less luck with healing item drops, even with the skill that allows little mooks to drop items. Fortunately, min-maxing the Growth Maps helps make things easier. The Indomitable Spirit skill is a lifesaver, and it can be obtained very early on in Treasure Log. What it does is cause health regeneration during a buff, and at max level, you can heal back to full from the brink of death. With Concentration to fill up the special gauge faster, you can basically never die, even on the toughest missions.

Sadly, that does not stop the bosses from being absolutely obnoxious to fight. It could be because I use this game to veg out, thus refusing to learn the nuances of the game, but it’s also a license tie-in, so… Anyway, when you destroy the armor gauge, the meter turns purple and slowly fills up. Obviously, you have until it’s full to combo them before it refills. However, when fighting bosses specifically, they have a completely random ability to use a shockwave attack which instantly frees them from your combos AND immediately recharges their armor. It’s stupid and you just have to deal with it (or, you know, actually know how the game works).

Pirate Warriors 4 has three modes, just like the previous game. Dramatic Log is the main campaign, which has all the stiff cutscenes and stuff (seriously, these games probably made us desensitized toward Ace’s death). The missions are shorter and more numerous, allowing for a more accurate experience of the story arcs as they actually happened. But sometimes, it gets a bit much. Why is there an entire stage just for the first battle against Sir Crocodile? The Free Log is the ability to replay story stages, but since they no longer have Treasure Events or that stupid grid thing (THANK GOD), there isn’t much of a point. S-Ranks are as easy as ever to obtain, and there’s no reward for playing on Hard Mode, except maybe a trophy in the PS4 version.

My personal favorite mode is Treasure Log. Similar to Pirate Warriors 3’s Dream Log, Treasure Log is a series of short, semi-random missions. I love it because there’s no boring cutscenes; just straight gameplay. Also, you get to live a number of impossible, fan-fic like scenarios, such as getting to beat the crap out of that sumbitch Akainu, or winning a 2-v-1 against Big Mom and Kaido as someone like Bartolomeo. It’s also a lot harder, doing crazy things like pitting you against the entire Straw Hat Crew at once. Unfortunately, you still need to progress in Dramatic Log to unlock the Straw Hats’ later move sets, like Gear Four and all that. But bizarrely enough, I actually look forward to these games for playing as anyone OTHER than the Straw Hats. I love the crew, but there’s a weird charm to being able to play as one of the villains, or characters with interesting abilities, such as Bege. Of course, if you want to get 100%, you’ll be playing as the Straw Hats in this mode a lot, along with everyone else. Just be wary of playing as Sanji in this mode, since female enemies can spawn in for random side missions even if it’s a stage that guarantees all male opponents.

I didn’t actually complete the game as far as maxing out everyone’s stats and doing every stage, but this game is pretty reasonable by comparison to others of its kind; it’s no Hyrule Warriors that’s for sure! As long as you have the Coin Collector and Cat Burglar skills and do the most of your grinding in the New World-tier Treasure Log stages, it doesn’t seem like it’d take that long. Maybe 100-odd hours, which is—yes—shorter than the previous Pirate Warriors, and WAY shorter than Hyrule Warriors (that goes to show you the standard that the Warriors games set). If you wanna complete one of these games, do this one!

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Final Verdict: 8.35/10 if you’re a fan

One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 feels great if you really love and understand the series. The combat is fun and over-the-top, and the way they handle special moves give it a lot of depth and customizability. In case I didn’t make this clear, ONLY play this if you’re a diehard fan of One Piece!

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Final Verdict: 8.95/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Final Verdict: 8.4/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.