Back in the day when I was heavily into Gamecube, I asked for Super Smash Bros Melee for Christmas. It was right up there at the top of most lists of best Gamecube games of all time. And it certainly sounded like a cool idea to me. It was a bunch of classic Nintendo characters from various franchises all together in a single fighting game. I guess I expected something like the Marvel Vs Capcom games or something. But when I actually attempted to play the damn game... I had no idea what was going on. It was pure chaos. And the control scheme felt so foreign to me. My attempt to play Melee lasted all of a day. And for years I've just been assuming that I wasn't interested in Smash Bros altogether.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate launched this past year for Switch and it's remained all the rage since then. I've been sort of paying attention as a Nintendo fan, but for the most part just felt like I should avoid spending $60 on a game that I don't think is really for me. But I keep hearing all these good things. And finally I let my curiosity get the better of me... kind of. So instead of getting the new hotness, I decided to grab Super Smash Bros 4 instead.
(Note: the game is technically called "Super Smash Bros for Wii U" and "Super Smash Bros for 3DS" depending which system you buy it for. But that's stupid. There's a "4" right there in the logo on the cover. And regardless which format you're playing, it's the same damn game. Plus, you can even connect the two versions to share custom data or use the 3DS as a Wii U controller. So just... I'm calling it SSB4.)
I've been in a real Wii U collecting phase lately, so I had intended to grab the game that way (and I still do), but for now I'm playing on 3DS because it was something I could easily/cheaply get my hands on right away.
The thing about Smash Bros is that you have to basically unlearn anything you know about fighting games. There's basically two attack buttons (and a grab and a shield) and that's it. And there's no Street Fighter style quarter-circles or Mortal Kombat style sequence of inputs for moves. Instead everything is a combination of one of the two attacks, and a direction on the analog stick. On top of that, players don't have lifebars. This is more akin to like... karate or something. It's all about getting points. So you get a point for successfully knocking a player out of the battle area, while you lose a point for getting knocked out (or falling out) of bounds yourself. So yeah, it ends up feeling VERY different than the majority of fighting games that I'm used to. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though.
Because I really had no idea what I was doing, I decided to start by playing the brief-ish Classic Mode which presents you with various challenges. This mode feels a lot less chaotic than the proper main game, and is a nice way to get the feet wet. I started out by playing as Toon Link, because frankly he looks awesome. I do find it funny that this is his official Nintendo-sanctioned name. Not "Young Link," or "Wind Waker Link," but TOON Link. Weird.
But y'know what? I'm having a lot of fun using Toon Link. I played through the Classic Mode, and it took me a couple of tries to get a 1CC on that at the default difficulty. Like I said, I'm a total noob at this. But over the past few nights I've started to get the hang of the basics. I've dabbled in a few other characters as well like Mega Man (pretty fun), Sonic (fast attacks but tough to control), along with Zero Suit Samus and Pikachu. I've also managed to unlock a few new characters as well. I'm having a better time than I figured I would.
I don't know that I'll ever be HARDCORE with this game. Not sure I'd understand what was even happening in a pro Smash tournament stream. But I'm having a lot of fun as a total casual. I'm just playing the standard solo mode and trying to learn the ropes a bit. Who knows when I'll even get around to playing online. I'm just not ready to be embarrassed yet. But this is a good game. I'm glad I picked it up, and I'm glad that after so many years I'm finally starting to see what it is that people like about these Smash games.
What a stupidly confusing name for this game. "Super Smash Bros for Nintendo 3DS/Wii U" is just a dumb mouthful. Why didn't they OFFICIALLY call it Smash 4? Or give it a cool new name? We had Melee and Brawl and then... "for 3DS" or "for Wii U"? Really? UGH! Dumb.
That said, I'm still playing this game nearly a year later. I know that Smash Ultimate is the new hotness. I know that it's exciting to see all the new character reveals. But truth be told, I still haven't even spend time with all the playable characters in 4. So I don't know why I'd need a new Smash... yet. And really, something about SSB4 kind of hits a good balance for me. There's way more characters than in the original or Melee, but there's not so many that it's completely overwhelming.
Nowadays I gravitate toward the Wii U version. It looks better and has more stuff. And I can use a legit analog stick here. It's good. But I also have a special nostalgia for the 3DS port. I can't get rid of that one either. So yeah. It's stupid, but I have two versions of this game.
I'm not good by the way. I'll probably never be good at Smash. But why let that stop me from having fun?
My biggest "gripe" with Smash 4, if you want to call it a gripe, is I'm never really sure what mode to focus on. I guess just playing pure Smash is the best way to practice. But there's so many other things I could do like the little events or whatever. And those are fun as they force me to try new characters. That's the other thing - do I spend time learning a character, or do I just hit random and try new ones? I don't know.
Here's something interesting, though. Right now, in the year 2020, people are still playing Smash 4 on Wii U online. Crazy right? It's not just me. There are others. And I guess it makes sense. Like me, there's probably other people who can see the appeal of playing a MUCH cheaper Smash game than the current one. There's also the fact that Smash 4 is really really good. And there's even the thing that the Wii U is still a bit of a cult console. It has its fans.
I'm really into playing as Shulk right now. Having played Xenoblade Chronicles X recently, I'm a bit of a Xenoblade convert, so he seems cool to me. His sword's reach is awesome, too.
When I was a kid, Mortal Kombat was all the rage. The original game was so infamous. EVERYONE had it. Everyone played it. It was like a badge of honor. You either convinced your parents that you were old enough to have it, or you got your hands on it by any means necessary.
But Mortal Kombat II was where the series got great. Strip away the brutality and hype from the original game, and you had, well Pitfighter. But the second game was fantastic, and one of the defining games of the SNES library for me. At least back then.
After that I sort of dipped out of the series. I'd dabble back in once in a while I guess. I remember borrowing MK3 from a friend for a while and it was cool. But I never even bothered with MK4. Until now. A buddy of mine is moving cross country and decided to sell off a chunk of his collection, so I scooped up some N64 games for myself.
MK4 is kind of an odd duck. It seems like a step-down from MK3 in a lot of ways. The roster is smaller for one thing. And the new quasi-3D graphics make it feel almost instantly dated compared to second or third games in the series. Add to that that it just feels... clunkier to me. I don't know. Something feels off. It's not quite as fluid as I remember the series. Then again, it's certainly possible that I'm super rusty. Because I am.
Anyway, I have no nostalgia attached to MK4. The truth is that the series just isn't that great to me anyway, but at least I have nostalgia for MK2, which helps elevate its status in my mind. But MK4 just feels like a rather middling fighting game that came out in that weird purgatory between 2D and 3D fighters. Meh.
Prince Of Persia is one of those classic early 90's PC games that I somehow never got around to playing. And now I fear that the window has been closed on my ability to enjoy it. This was one of those cinematic platformers. Y'know, like Flashback or Out Of This World? Only it was the first of those games. I think. I'm not in the mood to google it, but my mind remembers the history that way. Anyway, I definitely praise Jordan Mechner for the LOOK of the game. It's truly incredible for the time. But...
Let me start by saying that I decided to hunt this one down because of an old Nintendo Power review. I've been collecting NP magazines lately and sort of diving into a variety of games from the 80's to now. Some are familiar replays and others are things I missed out on. Anyway, after reading a review of the SNES port in NP, I dove further down the rabbit hole and read an HG101 article saying that the SNES port was THEE version to play. Well, I figured I'd track down the SNES port, but then found out that Forgotten Sands - the Wii Prince Of Persia sequel - featured "the classic 1992 game" as a bonus. Now in my mind, the original game came out in 1989, and the Wii is a Nintendo console, so the "1992 game" must be the SNES version which WAS released in 1992. Turns out, not so much.
For some odd reason the Wii game features a port of the 1992 Mac game. I don't know why, but it feels kind of weird to me. Anyway, this was kind of a bummer to me. The SNES version has better graphics, better controls, and two hour time limit instead of the original (BS) one hour. But y'know what? None of that really matters because I cannot find any fun from playing this game. I get that it was super impressive in 1992 and in 1989 even more so. I get that the fluidity of the Prince's animations is really a work of art. But as a game? Not fun for me. At all.
I can't remember the last time I felt so furious just trying to START a game. This is rough. And I do not have the patience for it now.
I remember back in the day I stumbled upon Mega Man Network Transmission for GameCube and bought it without knowing what it was. In my mind, HEY there was a new Mega Man game on GCN. But when I fired it up, what the heck? This wasn't Mega Man. This was some kind of weirdo Pokemon game with Mega Man in it. I lost interest really quickly and haven't even thought about the series since.
But lately I've been into collecting issues of Nintendo Power and going through them and making a list of various recommendations. Sometimes I'm reminded of a really big and awesome game I should play, and sometimes my eye is caught by something random. Take for example Mega Man Battle Network 6, the final game in the series which was released on GBA way back in 2006.
To my surprise, the entire GBA series of these games was released on the Wii U's Virtual Console. And I'm a big fan of the Wii U's Virtual Console. There's something really satisfying about playing old games on that gamepad. I mean sure, the Switch is an amazing console. But I have a soft spot for that hefty gamepad. I can't really explain it.
Anyway, this game is weird. I don't know if I like it yet. But maybe I do. Like many games of its time, it basically follows the Pokemon pattern. You've got two versions of each game and you can trade stuff with friends if you have a link cable; you're a kid in a town and you send in your thing to do battles. This time it's Mega Man rather than a Pokemon. And you collect "chips" which are basically cards you use as attacks, buffs, etc. The battles themselves are fairly interesting though. It's not a turned based thing, but instead kind of a real time strategy deal. It's fun enough.
One thing I don't love is all the jargon. It feels really silly and forced and so many words are being thrown at you at once that I feel like I don't know what the heck they're talking about. Navi's and Nets and Chips and Jacks and whatever. I get the distinct feeling that the developers were just skimming old issues of Wired Magazine looking for cool internet buzz words. Of course by 2006 those buzzwords had to sound rather dated. Never mind trying to play the game in 2020.
The future is now!
It's crazy to think that Shovel Knight has been around for six years now. I played the original game way back then and loved it. I then picked up the Plague Knight expansion when that dropped... and it didn't really do it for me. I'm blanking on what the next expansion was, but I never played it.
But I'd still consider myself a fan of Shovel Knight, the character. Oddly, he was the very first amiibo I ever bought. This was before I even owned a Wii U. I just thought that it was an awesome looking amiibo. And I've loved the fact that he's become a sort of indie game mascot, often making cameo appearances in other games. At this point, I can't even keep up with all the games that Shovel Knight has appeared in. But I mean, you know he's made the big time when he showed up in Smash Ultimate.
Anyway, I'm a pretty big fan of the Wii U, so I tend to pick up games there when I have the option. As a plus, Wii U versions of games tend to be pretty dirt cheap. I think I've resigned the idea of collecting a complete Wii U set, but who knows. It's a smallish library.
I did however finally pick up Treasure Trove on Wii U, and I was thrilled to see that even though the system is "dead," it's still getting the added DLC released as recently as this past December. So I decided to spend some time playing the King Of Cards expansion.
The reviews for King Of Cards have been great. Nintendo Force gave it a perfect 10 score in their most recent issue. That's high praise, of course.
It's an interesting expansion so far. King Knight's move set is not especially easy to master. At least not at first. I'm still kind of wrapping my brain around his attacks and movements. And I admit, there's been some areas of levels that take me MANY attempts to successfully traverse.
But the really interesting thing about King Of Cards is the cards part of it. So while the base game is still platforming and boss battles and all that, there's also card houses to battle at, and decks to build and cards to collect. It's like a mash-up of a platformer and Pokemon TCG.
Of course we've seen these sorts of card games mixed into other games before. Be it Gwent inside Witcher 3 or that other card game from Final Fantasy IX or many other examples. But I can't think of a platformer that did this.
The card game here is... fine. It's pretty basic. I was expecting a sort of Hearthstone kind of thing. But really, it's more of a sliding puzzle game than a true card game. Just you're using cards to slide around. It's not bad by any means. Though it feels a bit basic. That said, I still find it fun enough.
Okay, so I've decided fairly quickly that I don't like the King Of Cards expansion AT ALL. It genuinely feels like a chore to me to attempt playing. Part of it may have been expectations, and that's on me. I THOUGHT I was getting a card game set in the Shovelknight universe. Not really. Instead it's a platformer that I hate (I really don't like playing as King Knight) that has some card game elements shoehorned in. And I don't find the card game all that compelling. So in short - I'm all set with this one.
For some reason I've never payed much attention to the Boxboy series. Here it is in its fourth entry, and I've just now decided to give it ago. It's weird, because I do like HAL as a publisher. And I can't lie - I sometimes dream that I'll stumble upon that super cute and super expensive Boxboy amiibo in someone's garage sale. But for whatever reason I've just never been too interested in checking these games out.
But alas, I was still sitting on some Amazon giftcard credit from Christmas, and not really sure what I was in the mood for playing (between my usual binges of Overwatch) and having just thumbed through a back issue of Nintendo Force, decided that the glowing review of Boxboy + Boxgirl was just glowing enough for me to spend $10 of said Amazon credit.
So how is it? So far, so good. I mean, my impressions aren't nearly as through the roof as Nintendo Force's. They gave the game a 9.5 out of 10. Side note, if you're going to use decimals, why not just make it a scale of 100? We can all do the math right? This a 95%. Anyway. Sorry. I'm pedantic sometimes.
It's a HAL game, which means it's going to be charming and adorable. Of course. Boxboy is of course a little box with legs and he platforms around and has to do some puzzle solving to get to the exit of each level. He can generate new boxes. There's a limit to how many per level. Meaning, in some levels the limit is three, which means he can make three connected boxes at a time. If he tries to make another set the original set disappears. It's simple enough that you get it right away, which is good.
I played for an hour or so and made it to the fifth world if I recall. Each world has its own little gimmick. None of the worlds have enemies, but there are new obstacles. So one set of worlds has electric spark things you can't touch; one has springs that send you flying; one has barriers that need to be opened by hitting switches; and so on. They're all crafted nicely enough, but it's not exactly brain-crushing. I've pretty much coasted through no problem so far.
Of course the puzzles are the metric to judge puzzle games. On that front, this seems fairly easy so far. Which is fine. It's a chill game, and more of a pallet cleanser for me right now. I think it's fun and cute, but I don't see myself running out to pick up the older 3DS titles right away or anything.
There are things to collect in each stage. There's crowns that you can trade in for new cosmetics. I got "sleepy eyes" on my first attempt and just kept that. I don't care enough about cosmetics in a game like this to care. So now I'm not even really going out of my way to grab the crowns. You also earn stars based on how well you performed. IE: There's sort of a par for how many blocks you use in a level. I'm sure completionists love trying to get the best rating on each level, but that's not my style of gaming. I just don't care enough. Getting through each level is satisfying enough for me.
I will say that the true draw here is probably the "+ Boxgirl" part. This is the first game in the series to feature co-op, and it has its own unique campaign. So once I'm done playing through solo, I can totally see this being a game that my wife would enjoy playing with me. So there's that.
I've been playing this on and off between things, and it's weird. I don't really like it. But I keep playing it. I think that ultimately it feels to me like some kind of phone game. Meaning, it's a decent enough time killer but it's not like I'm actually into it. I'm in world 16 or so now, and I keep THINKING that I've beaten the game and then more levels open up. If I was into this game, I'd be happy about that, but I feel like I keep pushing through to feel like I'm done with it. Which isn't a good sign. I might just be done, though. I'm not really having fun. Again, it just feels like a way to kill ten minutes before bed right now.
Everything's weird right now. The coronavirus panic is crazy right now. Everyone's trying to find a balance between how to work and live safely. It's confusing for sure. And so when it's time to settle down and relax before bed, I've found something to take my mind off of the outside world.
The Bravely series is REALLY interesting. Let's go backwards for a minute. In 2009 there was a DS game called Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes Of Light. If you never played this one, you're missing out. It's an awesome throwback JRPG that draws heavily from Final Fantasy III and V. Now, while this game was developed as a spin-off to the Final Fantasy series, my guess is that Square Enix decided to use the FF name as a means to selling more copies through name recognition. In reality, we may have well called this game Bravely Zero.
Anyway, The 4 Heroes Of Light did well enough that a sequel was started - and that sequel eventually saw the light of day under its own new title away from the FF series. That game became Bravely Default on the 3DS. I remember picking that one up at launch, and thinking it was really cool, but I got distracted by other games soon enough and never went back to it. Bummer.
The next game in the series was Bravely Second, which I'm playing now and will circle back to in a second. I didn't actually play it back then. And as it turns out, Bravely Second was more of a full game length expansion to Bravely Default than a true sequel on its own. Sort of like Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna.
Okay, this is where it gets weird. Enter the Switch era.
So I guess you could say that the next game in this loose series would be Octopath Traveler. I mean, the battle system? It is totally Bravely Default. And so are the weirdly written characters. And I LOVED Octopath Traveler. Even weirder? After all of that, Square Enix has announced that a new Bravely game is coming to Switch. It's called... Bravely Default II. Got all that?
So anyway, here we are. I'm playing Bravely Second, and thinking to myself that this series is awesome, even if it's kind of a mess. To some degree, I've played every game in this loose collective, and I've definitely enjoyed every game to some degree. That's saying a lot.
Bravely Second's story is mostly silly and tropey. But that's fine. I admit I got a chuckle out of one of the characters being straight up referred to as "one of those four heroes of light," only to comment about how pretentious that title sounds. Good stuff.
But the story is WHATEVER. I'll be honest, half the time I just skip the cut scenes. I'm playing this game for its lovely visuals, solid soundtrack, and more than anything else, it's awesome battle system. If you haven't played any of these games, it uses a turn based system in which you can choose to "brave" (or spend turns early and have to sit out that many future turns) or "default" (or sit out a current turn to stack up extra turns later). It makes for some interesting strategizing.
Likewise, the job system is really cool and makes your characters insanely customizable. Again, if you played Final Fantasy V (or Tactics) then you have a good idea of how the job system works. And you'll be leveling up your jobs independent of your characters, so again, there's a lot of variance to how your experience will play out versus mine.
So yeah, I'm having a blast with this game. And oddly, it's one of the cheapest 3DS RPG's I've picked up in recent memory. So maybe give it a spin if you need some mindless yet solid RPG'ing in your life right now.
I'm five or six hours in now, and this game is definitely captivating. I mean, it's not like the experience I had with Xenoblade Chronicles X which was just this huge epic explosion of awesome. But this feels like a pretty great modern throwback RPG. The story is kind of meh. But everything else makes up for it, mechanically.
I spent some time in a side quest last night - something I don't do a lot of in most RPG's - and leveled up considerably. I ended things at a boss fight against a red mage, which is appealing because if I beat him then I'll have the red mage job to use. That could replace either my black or white mage, opening up a slot for another job. I'm just not sure I'm leveled up enough to take this dude down right now.
It's really been a weird week. And this is a pretty weird game. In some ways it's very familiar and comforting. It's got that great 16-bit throwback vibe to it; and it really reminds me of playing Octopath Traveler, which is definitely in my top tier of Switch games. But then it's just... weird. Like, there's these alien creatures called the Ba'al and obviously the warriors tasked with killing them are called... Ba'al Busters. And they run with that joke A LOT. Oh, and pigs are warp points from village to village. And there's some kind of weird base building stuff you can do in a sub-menu that involves the moon. I don't even know.
But honestly, I tend to just kind of ignore a lot of stuff. The base building on the moon? I don't even know what's the point. The story and silly jokes? I skip about half of them anyway. I'm just enjoying the meat and potatoes. This game has an awesome battle system, and the job system is solid and makes for fun experimentation. I'm about ten hours in now.
So after twelve hours I hit Chapter 2. Out of curiosity, I looked up how many chapters there are. There are six chapters. Six! And it took me twelve hours to finish the first one. So... apparently this game is really long.
I'm having a really good time with it, though. The battle system is solid, the job system is neat. But my goodness. I really don't think I have what it takes to plow through five more chapters right now. I know I'm in the minority, but I do sometimes miss the days when a twenty hour RPG was considered long. Damn.
So yeah, this will be a good point for me to take a break from Bravely Second.
When Pokken Tournament was announced, I had pretty minimal interest. For one thing, I still wasn't QUITE sold on the Wii U yet. And I wasn't as big of a Pokemon fan as I am now. And as far as fighting games go, Tekken is pretty low on my list.
A year later it was re-released on the Switch and people were going gaga over it. I didn't really get it. I assumed that it was mostly because the Switch was new, and there weren't a ton of games yet to choose from. And three years later, I assumed I was right because now there's a million games on Switch and nobody ever talks about Pokken Tournament anymore.
But I ended up with a copy of the Wii U release on my shelves, from a Gamestop B2G2 sale after the holidays. At the time I was pretty heavily collecting Wii U games, and would just grab anything I didn't own if it was cheap enough.
I decided to give the game a go this week to mix things up. I've been playing a lot of RPG's lately and Overwatch and I don't know, just wanted to play something different; something outside my comfort zone. A decade ago I was huge into fighting games, but less so nowadays. I'll be honest: I'm pretty bad at them now. Out of practice anyway.
To my surprise and joy, Pokken is actually damn good. I had always just assumed it was a Tekken game reskinned to include Pokemon in it. Not the case. Not at all. It's actually very unique and fun. For instance, matches are constantly changing perspective between being a Power Stone kind of 3D fighter and a more traditional Tekken 2D fighter. This makes things interesting.
The matches are fast and flashy. And there's a leveling system that makes you feel like there's actual progression instead of just y'know... fighting a bunch of dudes over and over again.
The tutorial was fun and actually quite useful. There's a lot to learn here from basic moves to grabs, blocks, powered up moves, assists and so on. All of it was introduced at a decent pace. I'm using Pikachu as my main because there's no Squirtle, sadly.
The real meat of the game is the League, which is basically the single player story mode. You enter a League (Green is the first) and play matches to rank up, and once you're eligible for a tournament you do that and if you win, you can qualify for the next League. So far I've spent about two hours between the tutorial and ranking up, and now qualify for the green tournament. So again, there's a sense of track-able progress in each play session.
This is good stuff. I'm glad I gave it a try.
I have a weird relationship with Metroid. I certainly like to consider myself a fan of the series, but sometimes I think I'm a bigger fan of the IDEA of the series than the games themselves. I love the Samus character. I love the influence that Alien had on the games. I love the settings and the music and all that. But I mean, the games themselves, I can be a little tough on I guess.
In the past year I played Samus Returns, which was a 3DS remake of Metroid II. And I pretty much hated it. In fairness, I seemed to mostly hate changes that were made from the original game. But still. I also played Super Metroid - oft considered THEE defining Metroid experience, and I managed to lose interest fairly quickly. In my defense, I personally feel like the two GBA games - Zero Mission and Fusion - are the best 2D Metroid games ever made. Period. It's probably even weirder to say that Other M kept my attention longer than Super Metroid - though, in reality part of that had to do with how weird and sometimes bad Other M was. It kept me coming back anyway.
I had been thinking about replaying Zero Mission, which is the GBA remake of the original Metroid. But then I realized I could just play the original via the Switch Online service. And really, I tend to usually go with my cheapest option. In this case, "free."
I've never spent that much time with the original game in all honesty. I remember a friend's dad playing it when I was a kid but it seemed pretty complicated and hard back then. I jumped on board with the series with Metroid II as I was a total Game Boy kid. And eventually I played Zero Mission and loved it. So going back to the actual NES game seemed like a step backwards. Funny as it sounds, probably my most experience with the NES original was via NES Remix. Weird.
So I figured why not. There's no map, and I'm a baby who doesn't want to spend TOO MUCH time backtracking and getting lost right now (at least not after the 20-something hours I've spent in Xenoblade Chronicles X lately) so I found a nice walkthrough online. The game certainly feels more manageable this way. I've already picked up some upgrades and am heading to the elevator to get to the second area now.
I will say I never found the controls in Metroid all that tight. Jumping feels so floaty and weird. But we'll see how it goes. Like I said, I WANT to love all these games, but it tends to be a mixed bag for me in reality.
People generally point to Super Metroid and Symphony Of The Night as the start of the Metroidvania genre. But really, wasn't Metroid and Castlevania II already pretty much there? Like Castlevania II, I don't think I could even play Metroid without a walkthrough. There's so much unexplained crap. Like all these random floors or walls to bomb to find certain areas. Who has the time to bomb EVERYTHING just in case? Not me!
Anyway, I got some power-ups. I got the high jump and the screw attack and that's great. I also figured out wall-jumping and got stuck inside some lava and couldn't exit the screen so had to go back to an earlier save state.
After that I made it to the boss fight against Kraid, and... I might be done with this game. I just don't have enough HP right now, and I don't feel like going to farm for more because frankly, the game is starting to feel like a real slog. Like I said earlier, I loved the Zero Mission remake. But its existence has made going back to the original game all the harder.
I've been meaning to play Xenoblade Chronicles for, oh, ten years now. That whole Operation Rainfall thing was fascinating while it was happening. And it was my intention to play all those games. But I haven't. And yet, the Xenoblade series has continued to grow over those years. The original game has been re-released on 3DS and soon on Switch, while a full on numbered sequel was released on Switch along with a game-length stand-alone expansion.
But I still haven't played any of those games. Instead, I've just fired up Xenoblade Chronicles X, a spin-off title that was released (so far) exclusively on Wii U. And people love to hate that console. And I love to defend it. Here's a good example of why. Now in fairness, a lot of the once exclusive Wii U games have been ported to Switch. Tokyo Mirage Sessions was a recent surprise. But for now Xenoblade Chronicles X is still exclusive to Wii U. And even IF it gets re-released, it'll no doubt be a $60 game and I managed to grab it for less than $15 in pristine condition. So I'm happy.
I'll be honest - I had NO IDEA what to expect from this game. Screenshots and videos I've seen from the original look like the typical blue sky and green grass RPG, albeit with some futuristic designs a la later Final Fantasies. But as I delved into X, it became immediately clear that I was really in for a treat.
The influences here are staggering, and really check off a lot of boxes for me. The game opens with a huge cinematic intro that involves aliens and robot spacecrafts in fight in space. It's awesome. And as the game started up, it became clear that the futuristic designs are more inline with Phantasy Star Online than say Mass Effect. It's an awesome blend of bright colors typically found in JRPG's with a more sci-fi feel. Even better, once you get to "New Los Angeles," it's like you're in a JRPG version of Blade Runner. Heck, the team that you join is even called "BLADE." This game feels like my kind of game.
That said, I'm two and a half hours in and still struggling at times to figure out the basics. Combat feels awesome, but I'm still not fully understanding how it all works yet. It's sort of a blend of auto-attacks, and then cool-down skills you can manually do and then there's even some QTE stuff thrown in. I think this feels like a metaphor for the game as a whole. There's a LOT going on and it's going to take some time to make sense of it all.
But for now, I'm heavily intrigued. I think this game is going to really click with me - even more than it already has in the opening hours.
Okay, so there's a lot of stuff that Xenoblade Chronicles X does a poor job of explaining to the player. There's so many menus and mechanics to wrap your head around, and very few of them are properly outlined. And I think that to really enjoy this game you need to be alright with that. And I am. I kind of think of this game as just letting myself go and get taken up by the currents and let it bring me where it brings me and along the way, I hope I learn to swim.
And slowly I'm figuring things out. For instance - and this is embarrassing - early on I didn't even know how to use the cool-down abilities in battle. Turns out it's the d-pad. So now this has improved my experience a lot. The battles in this game are fast and chaotic and engaging. It's a joy to grind.
I spent a lot of time last night just trying to explore this enemy alien outpost base. It was slow and sometimes frustrating. At times we were under powered. Or at least under prepared. I died a lot, but dying in this game seems to be a learning experience. Like, you can see enemy levels above their heads. So maybe don't mess with a level 80 thing in the wild when you're level 9. Lesson learned.
My character is Newt (Xenoblade, Xenomorph, whatever) and is somewhat modeled after my wife, because I have a type. I'm still slowly figuring out the menus. Even stuff that should be easy - equipping armor, say - is a little convoluted because there's minimum levels required for EVERYTHING and it's not always clear. There's definitely no button to just equip the best stuff automatically like you might see in other RPG's. This is definitely an RPG for those that like to get into all the little systems.
Anyway, we finally got into the alien base, and did a sort of little boss battle and recruited an annoying little space-potato character who I'm guessing is a healer of sorts since he said he doesn't fight and needs to be protected. Joy.
It's weird, though. Anything I'm saying that might sound negative... it's really not. I may have sort of complaints, or at least things I would have done differently if I were directing the game. But ultimately, I'm finding this game truly fascinating and really really awesome.
Somehow SOMEHOW I managed not to save my game before the Chapter 3 story quest was officially turned in. Which meant I had to do that whole chapter again. UGH. So this time instead of slowly discovering where I need to go, and what I needed to do, all while slowly grinding organically, this time I just bolted straight to that boss chamber to do it over again - and thus, I'm level 9 now instead of level 10. Lame. At least I was able to skip the cut scenes I had already watched.
Lesson learned: save often. Apparently the auto-save in this game is not as generous as I had assumed.
Before I could start Chapter 4 there were some mandatory side-mission tutorial things to get out of the way. So I did those. Did you ever see the episode of Parks & Rec where Ben makes a board game and the rules are so convoluted that nobody can follow? Xenoblade Chronicles X feels a little bit like that at times. It's like the developers were daring you to try to keep up on all of the systems that are in place. Take for example leveling... you've got your own level, plus your abilities have levels, plus there's a rank, and a Blade rank, plus there's some other sort of percentage you need to hit for unlocking parts of the map. Oh, and there's affinity scores, too. It's a lot. Obviously some more important than others. But my goodness, did they make this game complicated.
And yet I'm sort of enjoying butting my head against it. I'm trying my best. And I'm having a good time.
Never has an RPG challenged me so much to even understand what's going on. The map itself is color coded, and apparently each represents the difficulty of the enemies found there. I had no idea. This isn't told to you in-game. And the color coding itself is kind of arbitrary. It's not a basic green/yellow/red kind of thing. There's five colors I think? Maybe more. Google is my friend.
I tend to only lose interest in RPG's if I feel like I'm not making progress. So that's what has kept me so interested in XCX. I'm always making progress, at least right now. And right now it's slow. All I know is that my current objective is to get 15% of the map surveyed. I assumed that meant just exploring/discovering. But no, you need to 'resolve' each piece of the map - whether that means placing a satellite thingy or killing a certain big enemy or just discovering a specific thing there.
I did manage to get that survey level raised from 7% to 11% so again, progress. But it's a little slow right now. There's so much to complain about how this game treats the player, but oddly, the game itself is so good that I'm able to overlook so much of that. It's just really fun to play.
Chapter 4 was a beat. Not really the chapter itself but all the stuff I had to do to be able to take the mission. So now I'm like ten hours into this game. And y'know what? It's still fantastic. It took me forever to figure out how to use the follow ball, and now I've completed Chapter 4. And it turns out that this world is HUGE. Like, I already knew it was, but I was only one ONE PART of it. There's way more. And I also figured out how to recruited other players' characters into my party temporarily which is really cool. In this way, it plays like an MMO, except you're using like ghost characters. It's weird. But awesome. This game is great.
On the macro, Xenoblade Chronicles X is a slow game. Progress comes in granules. Leveling can take an eternity. Yet, in the moment-to-moment the game always manages to feel exciting. The actual battles are frantic and awesome. And there is always SOMETHING to do be it your main quest or side quests or just exploring or spending time dicking around in menus upgrading gear or skills or tweaking abilities. It's never boring.
For the most part, I've played in a linear fashion - sticking to the main story quest. However, some of these require certain conditions be met. So I might have to do specific side quests first, or explore certain areas of the world map, or just be a certain level, mandating that I spend some time grinding.
Last night I completed Chapter 5, which I had started the night before. There was some intense battles in there, and the whole story culminated with me finding out (spoilers!) that my character was actually a robot. I felt genuinely shocked by this story beat. And I also felt in love with the game. Spending all this time with a character I created - one who was suffering amnesia, the most common JRPG trope EVER - only to find out her memories were wiped because she's a robot! It's all so very Blade Runner. And I love it. Hard.
I was curious how long I'd been playing. I estimated about a dozen hours, but when I checked my Wii U's activity log it turns out I had played seventeen hours. Wow. That's how sucked into this game I've been. The hours have just melted away. Over the past couple weeks, any gaming downtime has been poured into this one. Happily. I could easily list all the complaints I have about XCX, but none of them really matter. Because I love this game. It's one of the best modern RPG's I've played in a long time. And certainly one of the most unique. I mean, I've actually been keeping a text file on my Chromebook just to remind me of all the stuff I want to try to do. It's crazy. This game rules.
I am getting absolutely destroyed in this one side quest. It's one that's required before you can do Chapter 6. Anyway, there's a huge boss battle and this thing has crazy HP. And does crazy damage. I'm wondering if I can fast travel back to base and recruit a fourth party member and then warp back? I should try that. Because I CAN NOT get him to die with just three of us. I came sooooo close at one point. I had him down to just a sliver of health but couldn't hold out.
It turns out that yes, yes I can go back and recruit another party member. So I did that. I scouted another player's NPC, who was a bit higher level than me, and went back and crushed that boss. Okay, I didn't crush him. We were actually super low on health by the time we took him out. But still.
The ability to scout other player characters and use them as NPC's is a really neat touch in this game. And I wonder - because NOTHING is explained all that well - if someone scouts me, does my character gain XP in that time?
I was too tired to start Chapter 6 by this point as we have a baby going through a sleep regression right now. So I just spent a little time running around Oblivia to grind a bit as I was pretty close to level 20. And now I'm level 20.