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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 8.4/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 8/10

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

Pokemon Sword and Shield: Isle of Armor DLC Campaign Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 7.65/10

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

Luigi’s Mansion 3 Full Game Review

Luigi’s Mansion is one of those series that I love to pieces, but cannot play well to save my life. In my years, I’ve only managed to beat the original with one of the worst ranks (something that you need to go out of your way to be so bad at), and never even finished Dark Moon. So, I was in for a rude awakening when a fellow associate (who’s just as bad as me) and I played through Luigi’s Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch.

The premise, as always, is pretty simple. Mario, Luigi, Peach, and a couple of toads are invited to stay in a five-star hotel called the Last Resort, which is managed by the big-haired, hoity-toity Hellen Gravely. Turns out that she and the hotel staff are all ghosts working under- surprise, surprise- King Boo, and now Luigi has to save his friends again.

It didn’t take long to realize that this is the best game in the Luigi’s Mansion series thus far. First off, the Last Resort has an amazing atmosphere, and the ghosts are as brimming with personality as they were in Dark Moon, if not more (for example, each boss ghost has its own unique animation when you defeat them). This is further enhanced by the suave soundtrack. While not something I’d listen to in my free time, the soundtrack sells the hoity-toity atmosphere of the hotel really well. 

Furthermore, with only one titular “mansion” again, this game returns to the Metroid-vania format of the original classic. There’s a lot of incentive to backtrack to grab goodies, even if E. Gadd yells at you to go toward your objective. Unfortunately, the actual game progression is a bit linear, but it’s still better than the mission-based format of Dark Moon.

The Last Resort has some of the best level design in the whole Luigi series. Each story of the hotel has a unique vibe to it. From the fancy lobby, to the overgrown garden suites, this place has it all; even a movie studio and a natural history museum! I’d sleep in a lot of places in this game if they weren’t haunted. They pulled out all the stops with the creativity in this one.

The gameplay of Luigi’s Mansion has been constantly evolving, and here it is at its peak. Not only do you have the charge-shot with the flashlight, but sucking up ghosts enough will allow you to repeatedly slam them on the ground for a brief time, doing more damage to them than ever before. And you better get used to it, for now the littlest mooks have a whopping 100 HP, and they only get chunkier from there. There’s also a shockwave you can activate, by pressing the triggers together, which pushes ghosts back and can easily be followed up with a stun. It also allows Luigi to jump, and you will need this to avoid certain hazards.

The whatever-it’s-called that lets you reveal invisible objects returns, and it’s accompanied by a host- a ghost host- of new powers. For starters, you obtain a plunger that you can fire ahead of you. Due to the power of levers and fulcrums, you can suck on the plunger when it’s stuck to something, which enables you to pull heavier objects that you couldn’t pull otherwise.

But of course, the biggest new addition is Gooigi. When obtained, this guy can split off from Luigi and slip through bars and stuff. He dies in water, which is pretty much how they stop him from being OP. Gooigi can be controlled by a player 2, instead of leaving Luigi out like a sitting duck. The game is definitely more fun with a second person to be Gooigi, but be wary of player 2’s skill level, for Gooigi will sometimes have to fight tough battles all on his own. Fortunately, you don’t get an instant game over if he dies, and he can spawn back in really quickly at any time. Player 2 can also choose to warp back into Luigi at any time in order to not have to do extraneous tasks such as walking. Just be extra careful with whom you play with, because occasionally, Gooigi will have to save Luigi from certain death, which gives your friend the opportunity to not save Luigi just to be a troll.

Unfortunately, all of these mechanics are given to you within the first hour and a half of the game. After this is a whopping ONE upgrade, which is obtained practically at the end of the game, and is only used three specific times. This game definitely has the worst sense of power progression in the series.

Another flaw is that there is some required backtracking (i.e. padding). There are several instances where you have to go back to a previous floor and go through it again with no new mechanics (the second time takes you to a new room, but it’s like two minutes long). It’s annoying and destroys the pacing, but it’s not as bad as some of the stuff they pull in the Paper Mario games.

But hey, you’ll have to backtrack to all the floors anyway for the Boos. Finding Boos requires you to go to a room in a completed floor and examine the right object, similar to the first game. Gooigi vibrates in response to a Boo’s presence, plus, a room with a Boo will play a sick pipe organ tune to clue you in as well. But Boos are extra stingy this time. You only get one shot to examine the Boo’s hiding spot, and if you get it wrong, it’ll go to a different room and hide there. Pay close attention to Gooigi’s vibrations, and once you find them, the combat is the same as Dark Moon (except that you get to repeatedly slam them into the floor in an “Ora-Ora!” style). 

As is with series’ tradition, there’s money. TONS OF MONEY. But in addition to money, there are also five gems per floor. Most of these can be found on the very first visit to the floor, except for one that requires a later upgrade. A number of them are pretty stinking clever, but as long as you’re an experienced Luigi-er, it shouldn’t be too hard. There is apparently a true ending, but I have no idea what the condition is, besides presumably collecting every gem and Boo. Oh, and there’s a point of no return at the end of the game, and the game autosaves once you go through it. Make sure you copy your save file or make sure you have everything you need!

In terms of difficulty,  the game is about as inconsistent as a Super Mario game. Most of it is pretty tame, but sometimes it likes to thrust instant death traps in your face (looking at you, floor 10). Health pickups are pretty generous, but almost every attack does a fifth of Luigi’s HP, making him perhaps the most frail he’s been in the series. Also, the difficulty spikes right at the end of the game for some reason. The only time me and my associate died was during the final boss (and yes, it made me salty to not have a perfect run). While the penultimate battle is one of the best in the series, the final boss is a much poorer note to end the game on (which I’m probably only saying because it killed our perfect run).

On a last note, I must say that the graphics for Luigi’s Mansion 3 are amazing. Sure, I miss the survival horror look of the original. But this game expands off the cartoony style of Dark Moon and uses the Switch’s superior hardware to create some great moods with the lighting effects.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 8.85/10

Luigi’s Mansion 3 is a great game, but it’s not one I’d play again. There’s also the Scarescraper and Scream Park, but we felt content just beating the story mode (also, based on how it was in Dark Moon, the Scarescraper is rude). I recommend it to fans of the series, or anyone who’s wanted to get into it.

Pokemon Shield Full Review

PREFACE: Due to this being an update of a first impressions post, some content will be similar to the original post. There are also some spoilers.


You’d think that with eight whole generations of Pokemon, Game Freak would be out of ideas. However, the latest installments, Sword and Shield, prove that Pokemon still has a fire going, even if it isn’t necessarily blazing white-hot.

So, the premise of both Sword and Shield is a return to form; no more having to “make the Pokemon League” crap (although it was pretty interesting conceptually). In this instance, your rival character, Hop (who, unfortunately, still chooses the Starter with a disadvantage against yours), is the younger brother of the Champion, and said Champion gives you your Starters. You and Hop also have a run-in with some weird Pokemon that is immune to all attacks, and promptly shrug it off before the two of you head off on your adventure. But hey, Gyms are back! Thank Arceus! 

Every new Generation feels like it has a billion new mechanics and changes, so it’s overwhelming to talk about stuff… Gah, I guess I’ll just go off of whatever comes to mind first. Let’s talk Pokemon Centers. These things baby you; allowing you to buy each type of healing item other than Full Heals, and REVIVES before your first Gym Badge. But other than that, these are the best Pokemon Centers ever because they EACH come with a Name Rater, Move Reminder, AND Move Deleter; no Heart Scales required!

On the field, Gen 8 borrows from Pokemon Let’s Go!, and shows wild Pokemon in the overworld. However, it’s a bit confusing. While some appear visibly on the field, there are still old-school random encounters, except those tend to have completely different Pokemon. Intuitively, the invisible Pokemon are ones that are too small to actually be seen above the grass, which makes sense, but it’s still annoying (and sometimes, Pokemon that are larger than the player still somehow manage to hide themselves in there). Also, the Pokedex yet again does not have the Habitat List from Black and White 2. Instead, the Pokedex tells you what Pokemon you can catch in a given area, but it only shows one area at a time, meaning that you have to catch EVERYTHING as you go along in order for it to actually show the next place. Furthermore, it only shows Pokemon that you’ve encountered once before, so it doesn’t help when you’re looking for that last Pokemon in the Pokedex.

Another noticeable thing is that all party Pokemon naturally gain battle EXP together from the get-go. Also, there’s the Pokemon Camp ability, which allows you to play with your Pokemon and cook Curry (which is this game’s version of the crap you make with Berries in past games, and it’s just as convoluted as ever). This gives them even more EXP and increases their affinity towards you. So far, it seems that they at least got rid of the EXP boost from affinity, but kept the more luck-based perks. I’m sure you’re looking at this and thinking, “Oh my God the game’s even EASIER than ever! 0/10!” I thought that too, but this game’s actually proven to be reasonably difficult. You really need to know your stuff (fortunately, they still have the Battle Info button for noobs). Even with the bonus EXP from catching Pokemon (which I’ve done pretty liberally), fighting most Trainers, and using the Camp, I’ve been cutting it close. Even when I ended up getting overleveled by around the seventh Gym, and having my team catch Pokerus, it still proved to be a worthy adversary. They finally designed those Pokemon-helping mechanics around the actual challenge factor (as long as you don’t grind). Speaking of Pokemon-helping mechanics, you also have Poke-Jobs. These are accessible from the PC and are basically Merc Missions from Xenoblade 2. You send out boxed Pokemon for a set period of time, and they come back with a chunk of EXP (with bonuses for the Types specified on the request). This will be important for breeding tons of Pokemon at once.

Overwhelmed yet? Well, there’s also the addition of Wild Areas. These are where Pokemon becomes a true JRPG; they are vast, open, and have tons of Pokemon of wildly varying levels and draw points to get items from. The most important materials are Watts, which are obtained by visiting glowing red Pokemon Dens and pressing A on them. These can be exchanged for items, such as the new/old TR items. TRs are like TMs of old, use it once and they break. They are much more common, and generally contain better moves (seriously, most of the TMs are going out of their way to give you crap moves), plus they can be obtained multiple times, such as from Pokemon Dens…

…which segues into the BIGGEST (pun intended) change made in Gen 8, Dynamax Pokemon. Inside some Pokemon Dens are Dynamax Pokemon, giant versions of regular Pokemon who are much stronger than regular ones; so strong, that four Trainers need to band together to take one down. So that means that you have to subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online and connect to the Internet and fight them alongside some randos, right? Fortunately, no; you can play offline and you’ll be joined by some fairly competent A.I. trainers. When fighting against Dynamax Pokemon, you’ll be able to Dynamax the Pokemon you chose to fight in these battles, turning them gigantic as well. Dynamax is basically a fusion of Mega Evolution and Z-Powers. When your Pokemon are Dynamaxed, their HP gets a big boost, and their moves are modified. Offensive moves become a much stronger move of the same type, and leave a free effect like a multi-target stat buff on your team, a multi-targeting debuff on the enemy team, or a Weather effect, and Status moves just become a stronger version of Protect. Dynamaxing lasts for three turns before it has to recharge, so coming out swinging isn’t always the best. A lot of battles were decided by me timing my Dynamax so that the opponent’s would run out while mine was still going. Overall, Dynamaxing is by far the most gimmicky and least necessary mechanic in the game, but they made a good decision in restricting it to Pokemon Dens and Gym Battles.

There are two big problems with this mechanic. One is that the fights against Wild Dynamax Pokemon get ridiculous later on in the game. After 3-Star difficulty, they get shields that need to be broken by hitting it X number of times. Fortunately, breaking it lowers their Def and Sp Def by 2 levels, so it makes the rest of the fight easy. Unfortunately, the later Dynamax Pokemon also get up to 3 turns in a single round, and can wipeout your entire motley crew as a result. What’s worse is that the 5-Star ones get TWO shield phases. The problem is that battles have to be won in ten turns, and two shields guarantees at least four turns wasted. The whole thing ends up boiling down to your Pokemon’s levels and the type advantage, unless you can actually get humans to help you. The other issue is the Gigantimax gimmick. This is an ability that specific Pokemon can have to get new forms and unique move effects upon Dynamaxing. The problem is that you have to know which Pokemon can do it, and then you have to catch them in a Dynamax battle. Yup, it’s not good enough to catch the Pokemon itself. I even had two Pokemon with Gigantimax forms, but since they were normal catches, I couldn’t do anything about them. It’s a really dumb mechanic, and the unique moves don’t even have interesting animations, unlike the unique Z-Moves of Gen 7.

Gyms are back and, well, the same, really. They build up Gyms as this whole extravagant thing, just for them to be the same. The problem with this is that you basically have to go through a whole extra step for no reason. When you enter a Gym, you now have to go to some receptionist and change into a tokusatsu uniform before actually starting the Gym in earnest. Fortunately, the Gym Missions are among some of the best in a while. Gym 3 revolves around catching wild Pokemon, Gym 5 puts a fun twist on a normally aggravating type of challenge, and Gym 8 is the first Double Battle Gym since Hoenn, with battles revolving around the power of weather effects.

In addition to the Gyms, the way they handled the Pokemon League is probably the best in the series. In Gen 8, it’s the Championship Cup. This tournament format makes it so that you fight characters that you’ve encountered regularly; characters who’ve been through the same trial as you. It really is a gauntlet, because after that they make you fight three of the Gym leaders a second time. It really showcases how much you’ve grown as a trainer, especially for me, who found myself able to one-shot Dynamax Pokemon that I previously had trouble with.

But unfortunately, the Gym Leaders themselves have taken a downgrade again. In Gen 8, most of them are once again one-note characters that you talk to a single time outside of the Gym, then fight back inside the Gym. Out of all of them, two are interesting: Opal, who is just really funny and creepy, and the 7th Gym Leader, whom we’ll discuss in a bit.

In my first impressions, I- for lack of a better word- “shat” on the cast of characters in Gen 8. However, I take that back now. While all the characters, like your rival Hop, privileged pimp Bede, and Professor assistant Sonia, start off as the typical one-note, uninteresting characters that have been peppering the series as of late, they become some of the best we’ve had in a long while. Each of the aforementioned characters go through big changes during the story and their arcs, and by the postgame, you’re like, “Sh**, these are like completely different folks now.” I really hope that the next Gen 8 game is a sequel, like Black and White 2 are for Gen 5, so that you can see how far they’ve come. 

Team Yell is our new mischief-making group this time around. Despite their similarities to Best Team Skull, they’re pretty unremarkable, and only seem to serve as justifying the game walling you with NPCs at the exits of towns (which seriously needs a new approach; it’s getting old). But if they have any saving grace, it’s their boss, Piers. For the first time since Gen 1, the leader of the designated group of thugs is also a gym leader. But unlike Giovanni, Piers becomes a straight-up protagonist after you beat him, which is really cool.

With Piers being the Piccolo of the game, the role of the main antagonist lies elsewhere. And unfortunately, this person is probably my least favorite character in the game. WARNING. This next part is the most spoilery in this whole review! If you don’t want to be spoiled, skip to the next paragraph, but even then it’s not a big spoiler, because if you’ve played ANY RECENT Pokemon game, you already know who the main antagonist is. The big bad is Chairman Rose, the guy in charge of Galar’s whole power grid. This makes the third generation in a row, from Gen 6 onward, where the big bad is someone with high political influence in the world and are in charge of some big R&D department. He’s at least more subtle this time, versus Lysandre’s “humans should die” schtick at the beginning of Gen 6, or the OPENING CUTSCENE of Gen 7 clearly painting Aether as suspicious, but the pattern itself is what tipped me off for Rose, and it’ll probably tip you off too (if I didn’t just spoil it for you).

Let’s discuss cutscenes next. These have been a replay-killer in Pokemon for a while, and it was OBNOXIOUS in Gen 7. In Gen 8, it’s at least been far better than Gen 7, but still kind of bad. The Poke Ball tutorial is still forced, but they at least not bother telling you to weaken it first (which sounds like a rude beginner’s trap in hindsight). However, to be honest, the cutscenes here aren’t actually terrible. With the more cinematic camera angles and more expressive character models, the cutscenes have a lot more personality. For example, the cutscene that introduced the Starters is a bit overly long, but it gives off a subtle visual cue of their Type matchups, to save from people actually having to tell you in a forced tutorial. Also, to make the game more anime, bosses offer comments during battle. While they are cool and will no doubt give later fights much more emotion, you can’t skip them, and are onscreen for what feels like ten whole seconds. Curiously, there is a setting to skip cutscenes. However, it is a toggle to automatically skip all cutscenes, not a button prompt to skip them, which is kind of stupid. Most modern JRPGs at least give you a button prompt… I guess in Gen 9, then.

Next, I’ll give my impressions on the new Pokemon. Thankfully, they actually made them pretty common out in the wild, unlike Gens 6 and 7, where you’d be hard-pressed to find actual NEW Pokemon. Regional Variants return, but this time it’s not limited to Gen 1. The best one I’ve found is a Ground-Steel version of my boy Stunfisk, and it’s freakin’ great. But as far as the new-new Pokemon, a lot of them are really cool. Unfortunately, the Starters are a downgrade. While they have great designs and are still powerful, they are marred by all being single-types. To be fair, it helps so that you don’t have to worry about finding something cool with a matching type as much, but it still bugs me. Gen 7’s Starters are still my favorite for now. Meanwhile, the Legendaries look like recolored Gen 2 dogs, but they’re not terrible. 

The most stressful thing is trying to build a team of Pokemon I haven’t seen before when I don’t know what they’re going to evolve into, and the thing with Gen 8 seems to be that the Pokemon either have super reasonable or super BS evolution conditions. Most new Pokemon evolve on level up, and the game seems to be designed so that they would evolve right when they’re about to fall behind on your team if you were to use them as an official team member. However, there’s things like the new Yamask (screw that thing). Despite how easy it is to farm evolutionary stones, there’s almost nothing- at least not new Pokemon- that require them. It’s better than Gen 5’s “nothing evolves until you reach the Pokemon League,” but it doesn’t help that my bag has a bunch of useless stones in it.

My biggest complaint in the game is probably Galar itself. This is no doubt the smallest region in the series thus far. I admit I’m spoiled on Xenoblade’s big, grandiose worlds. But in addition to the small size of Galar, it also lacks substance. Routes are short and lack personality, and towns are so small that Tales of Vesperia’s towns seem huge by comparison, which sucks because the towns actually have the most charisma out of anywhere in Galar. The dungeons have also taken a hit as well. Despite them giving you an infinite-use Escape Rope, the dungeons can be gone through in less than twenty minutes each. They’re also small in quantity too. There’s NO VICTORY ROAD either, and the Route 10 that’s there instead is nothing like Gen 5’s, that’s for sure. In addition to all that, they still haven’t fixed the recent issue of NPC dialogue never changing; I’m still having people wishing me luck on my Gym Challenge even after I’ve already become Champion. 

The soundtrack is a downgrade from Gen 7. A lot of it felt kind of underwhelming. There wasn’t a single time where I stopped to soak in the atmosphere of a given area. Gen 7 still has the supreme soundtrack of the series in my opinion, with Gen 5 in second. If there are any good tracks, it’s the major boss themes; the themes of actual characters that you fight, like Bede and Team Yell’s loli mascot, Marnie. They also bring back Gen 5’s “music change when the Gym Leader has one Pokemon left,” and it really sells the intensity of those battles.

As for the visuals, the Switch has made Pokemon look like a true JRPG, or to be more specific, those new-fangled “animu” JRPGs, with cel-shaded anime kids, vibrant colors, and amazing lighting effects. This is definitely the best-looking that Pokemon has ever been.

Lastly, let’s discuss the thing I’ve been concerned about the most: postgame. For some reason, they haven’t gotten it right from Gen 6 onward, and it still seems to be the case here. Other than the designated Game Freak superboss, the postgame give you a single sidequest, like most recent games have done. In this quest, you spend the whole time going back to older areas and fighting whatever’s there, and your prize is the Legendary that’s on the box of the game you’re playing. Although the villains of the quest are funny, there are no new areas that open up, and even worse, THERE IS NO LOOKER. Looker has been a staple since Gen 4, and he’s one of the best characters in all of Pokemon! AND HE’S NOT HERE FUUUUUUUU- 

Anyways, finishing this sidequest opens up the “Designated BS Competitive Battle Area Where That You Challenge Out of Curiosity, Lose in 5 Seconds, and Realize that the Team that’s been with you Through Thick and Thin Sucks,” and it’s actually the easiest in the series. The battles aren’t just easier; it’s also easy to grind because you rank up by winning a total number of battle, instead of consecutive battles. I’m still not a fan of competitive, but hey, it’s there for those who want it.

You know what, for the sake of completion, I should touch on Gen 8’s competitive battle scene. The following information is all from an associate of mine who follows the competitive scene of Pokemon very closely. First off, Hidden Power and Toxic TMs don’t exist, which greatly limit what you can do to round out your Pokemon. Also, battles are apparently timed, with animations not pausing to run down the clock. Also, the lack of National Dex makes it so that you’re stuck with whatever’s in Galar, and that could make certain Pokemon significantly more dangerous than before. I also read an article saying that Dynamaxing is banned in competitive (which I would believe given how whiggety-whack it is), but I don’t know if it’s true. But hey… none of this is my problem!

As for the rest of postgame, you basically get to rechallenge the Champion Cup at Wyndon as many times as you want. In it, you merely fight random Gym Leaders and get a reward after winning; you don’t even refight Leon at the end. It’s good for grinding, at least, making it a big improvement over Gen 7’s NOTHING.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 8.8/10

They seem to be continuing the path they tread in Gen 7: amazing gameplay, user-friendly mechanics, and great difficulty, but a poorly built region. I feel like they’re either on the cusp of making Pokemon a tried-and-true JRPG series and not just “kiddy crap”, or completely ruining it once and for all. I guess we’ll have to see what happens then. But in the meantime, Pokemon Sword and Shield are nonetheless a wildly good set of games.

Dragon Quest XI S First Impressions

The game's box art

JRPGs are my favorite genre of videogames by far, even though a lot of them are time sinks and take a long time to really strut their stuff. I’ve been meaning to get into the Dragon Quest games for a while, and I finally got that chance with Dragon Quest XI S for Nintendo Switch.

So far, at about ten hours in, it seems to be almost going 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, 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. However, the cutscenes never feel like they’re more than two minutes long, and most of them can be A-mashed through, plus you can skip them by holding Y.

As for the gameplay, this 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 it isn’t outright).

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 going to be 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‘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 in which you use them. 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. I’m hoping that there will be ways to make Peps happen more frequently later.

Another thing I find tedious is the game’s skill tree. Normally, I love skill trees in JRPGs; however, Dragon Quest XI‘s looks really stingy. You only get skill points on level up, which so far has been only 2 or 3 each time. Most skills require 6, 10, or even more skill points each, meaning you gotta level up several times to get one skill unlocked.

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, and you can change equipment mid-battle without taking their turn. 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, which might not be the way the game intends, since skills are pricier the further out from the center you go, and it’s a real pain. Maybe you get more skill points at once upon further level ups?

Fortunately, the crafting system in Dragon Quest XI seems to be a lot of fun, so far. 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 if successful). 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. Your forging skills will also level up, allowing you to learn Flourishes, which are special moves that make the minigame even more interesting than before. Options are limited early on, but one can only imagine how ridiculously hard- and rewarding- some of those late-game equipments will be to make.

I’m kind of split on the aesthetics of the game right now. Although it’s pretty hard to be angry at Toriyama’s timeless art style on the characters, the world itself 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 it’s still kind of jarring to see the latter. 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.

As far as side quests go, the overworld only has a whopping 26, which is way less than a lot of JRPGs I’m used to. 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. This looks like it’s going to be a pretty fun thing to work towards completing, however it seems arbitrary that you can’t save in this zone, since I assume that some of the later ones are going to get really long and difficult.

The game also has a Draconian Quest setting, which lets you custom set some handicaps to 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 occurs. It’s funny if it happens with a story-important NPC, but I might remove it later, since it doesn’t actually make for a greater challenge (and since I’m a filthy casual, I don’t think I want to play a game blind on its highest difficulty). Speaking of difficulty, the game shows signs of steadily getting tougher, but it seems like one of those where you’ll breeze through standard battles, and only struggle on bosses.

~~~~~

Current Verdict: 8/10

Dragon Quest XI is off to a shaky start, more than most JRPGs I’ve played. I truly do see potential for this to become a great JRPG, but it definitely wants you to make those risky early investments. At the point I’m at, I at least managed to obtain the designated sea vehicle, which usually marks a big turning point in quality for JRPGs in general. Probably by this time next year, you’ll hear my final thoughts on the game!