The Wonder Boy series has always been a big confusing mess. The first game in the series was also called Adventure Island. And then there were Wonder Boy sequels and Adventure Island sequels that were all totally different things. Then there were weird localizations and spin-offs. There were two different Wonder Boy III games. And then the Wonder Boy games also became Monster World games. It's daunting.
One of the two Wonder Boy III games was The Dragon's Trap, a 1989 Sega Master System game. And that one was remade in 2017 and received a lovely release on the Switch. I can't really undersell the love that was put into this remake. Though it's now in widescreen, it's like a 1:1 conversion. You can literally hit a button at any time and switch between the updated graphics and the original SMS graphics and it's flawless. Although the game utilizes in-game saves, you can still use your 1989 passwords if you so choose. It's nuts.
Though I did click between the retro graphics occasionally for the sake of comparison, it's really hard to get away from this new hand drawn art. My goodness. This is one beautiful game. Like, I get the awe that Cuphead inspired. But I feel like Dragon's Trap was overlooked when it comes to sheer gorgeousness.
I've oft said that the original Phantasy Star on SMS was way ahead of its time as it did things that most JRPG's at the time didn't do. I'd point to Dragon's Trap as sort of similar as it's a pretty big Metroidvania with lots of hidden stuff and a BUNCH of different characters to play as. See, Wonder Boy has been cursed and each new section of the game has you playing as a different animal with different powers.
You start as a dragon who has a powerful projectile attack and no shield. Then you're a mouse who is tiny and weak, but can climb walls and fit in small cracks. The fish dude can swim (duh). The lion has a large swinging sword that can hit above and below him. The bird can - guess what? - fly! Late in the game you'll find areas where you can switch characters on the fly, which is helpful.
I've been playing this one in most of my down time this week. And it's been really solid. I've stuck with this more than any other Wonder Boy game I think. And while the Shantae series is a pretty obvious spiritual successor, it's cool to see a renewed interest in Wonder Boy with a couple recent remakes and the honest to goodness Monster Boy game.
At this point, I've made it to the last castle in the sky, but I'm getting my butt handed to me. I know I'm underpowered, and have some grinding to do for better gear, though I don't know if I'm really in the mood to do that. I've had a lot of fun with this game, but I'm not sure if I'll see it to the end just yet.
I'm hooked. Straight hooked. Slay The Spire is an incredible game.
I've been doing this sort of deep dive into high-rated Metacritic games that I've overlooked lately. And I know - you can go on and on about the flaws in Metacritic's system; the foolishness of trying to quantify a game's worth; the problems that are inherent in the gaming industry's reliance on SCORES. But when I'm browsing Metacritic and find a game like Slay The Spire - a game that I managed to grab a cheap copy of and then lose oh so many hours to... well, that's worth something.
Now, I've been a pretty longtime fan of video game card games. There's no secret there. I spent several hundred hours over a series of years playing Hearthstone. Though I was never really that great at it. I'd argue that Pokemon TCG on GBC is one of the BEST Pokemon games ever released. Card Fighters Clash is by far the best Neo Geo Pocket Color games. My point is, I'm no stranger to the genre. Heck, I've even dabbled in other, lesser card games.
The last card game I got really into was Lightseekers - a freebie on Switch that had the interesting catch that you could buy actual real word paper cards, and then add them to your digital copy of the game. It was a neat hook. And it was a competitive game. My apprehension with Slay The Spire is that it's a single player card game, and I don't know. That feels antiquated in 2021. But apparently not the case, because I LOVE this game.
Let me tell you what makes this game interesting: it's a roguelike. That is, there's no massive deck building here. Every run, you start with a small and weak deck. It's your job to build (and cull) a deck based on drops. So unlike other games where you're constantly trying to create this master deck that's perfect, in this one you're doing it in real time - you're building the best and most streamlined deck you can, based on what's offered to you. It's a brilliant hook.
There's four characters (deck types) to choose from, and I've dabbled with the three that are unlocked at the start. So far I'm sticking with the Ironclad, and I've actually just now got a handle on how he works best for me. I've made it to the boss of Act 3, which to my understanding is the boss right before the final boss. So I feel like I'm making excellent progress, and that a win is actually in sight.
This is a game that's so good that I find myself thinking about it while driving. Like, hmm, have I tried THIS yet? I should try to get such and such a card and hope that I can then use it with this other card. That's the sign of a good game. And I feel like if I can finally get a win, I'll still want to keep playing with other characters. Because this game is just so brilliant.
It took me 30 hours to beat Slay The Spire. This was spread out over WEEKS of squeezing in gaming time when I could. It's been kind of a rough month. But I'll tell you this: I adored every moment of playing this game.
I had gotten close to beating it with the Ironclad. I felt like his health regeneration relic made him "easy mode," but that wasn't the case. I finally hit a wall, and switched over to playing with the Silent. And that just changed everything.
With the Silent I worked out a strategy that really worked for me. My goal was to take only cards and relics that accomplished two things: (1) gave me block, and (2) gave me poison. From there, I'd constantly be throwing up barriers and adding more and more poison to enemies. It was thrilling to watch that poison effect compound. Each round I'd watch as poison would strip away 2 HP, 7 HP, 15 HP, 36 HP and so on. It was awesome.
Most of my runs ended the same... I'd breeze through the first act, struggle through the second, and then get killed at the second boss (floor 33).
And then I had this one glorious run where it felt like everything went my way with my poison-block strategy. I breezed through Act 1, getting in as many battles as I could to reap the rewards. In Act 2, I juggled battles with shops and ?'s and campfires as needed. And then in Act 3, I found the "safest" path I could to the end boss, only to find that I was so prepared with a deck full of poison and blocks. The boss barely caused me any concern and I watched those sweet, sweet credits roll.
This game rules, hard. It bumped its way up to my 7th most played Switch game, trailing Splatoon 2. That's major compliments right there.
I should probably get this out of the way now: I don't particularly like 3D platformers. I don't hate them by any means. But I don't go gaga for them. I'd much rather play a 2D platformer. I'll take Super Mario World over Super Mario Galaxy any day of the week. I had a buddy in high school who was really into Mario 64. I'd always ask him if we could play Mario Kart instead. I thought Mario Sunshine was pretty fun, but I definitely preferred Luigi's Mansion.
A few years back I was binging 3DS games and played through New Super Mario Bros 2 and Super Mario 3D Land, back to back. I thought the former was pretty great and the latter was just okay. I tell you all this so you know where my head is at. I don't hate these 3D Mario games, but I don't love them either.
Anyway, just after Christmas this year I decided to use some gift cards and finally jump on that Wii U bandwagon. To my happy surprise, the refurb console that I got from Gamestop was apparently a bundle that came pre-installed with several games. One of them was Super Mario 3D World - a game that I most likely would not have bought on my own; but one I'd happily play if I were given a free copy. So, the planets had aligned.
I started playing Super Mario 3D World on New Year's Eve after we finished watching Blade Runner (hello, 2019!) and while we were waiting for Chrissy Teigen to start counting down the ball drop. Mostly, I wanted to test using the Wii U tablet as a portable console - which stupidly enough involves me lugging the actual Wii U console out of my game room and plugging it in to a spare electrical outlet close enough to where I actually want to use the tablet. It's not pretty, but it works. And the game was a fun enough way to kill some time. The little cat suit is cute, I guess.
I didn't think about the game again for weeks. But this past Saturday I found myself battling a nasty head cold and home alone one Saturday morning. What to do? Oh! I could actually play the Wii U on a TV for once! So I fired up Super Mario 3D World and poured myself some coffee. I was going along just fine. It was the usual 3D platformer experience. I didn't love it; I didn't hate it. But it was cute and everything and those Toad levels are their own little challenge and I was having a decent enough time.
And then it happened.
Y'know what I do hate in a platformer? Being blocked from starting the next level because I haven't collected enough THINGS. You see, you need to collect green stars in each level and eventually, there will be levels that you can't move on to because you don't have enough green stars. So now you've got to go back and replay older levels to find more green stars. It's stupid. I hate this kind of thing.
In fairness, maybe this was in 3D Land as well? I can't remember as it's been five or six years since I played that one. I did beat 3D Land, so if that was in it then maybe I was more patient or it wasn't as annoying or glarding? I don't know. But I wasn't in the mood for this shit. Especially given the head cold and all. So y'know what? I'm all set with 3D World. I've got a copy of New Super Mario Bros U on its way to me now... I'll probably enjoy that one a lot more.
It's really crazy to me that I last played Super Mario 3D World over two years ago now. Time... flies... wow.
In the time since, I've gone back and replayed some other 3D Mario games. It turns out that Mario 64 is actually better than I remembered, while Sunshine is actually worse.
Anyway, 3D World is kind of all the rage right now, as it has been re-released on Switch and people are talking about it again. Plus, a lot more people have Switch than had Wii U, so there's that. But because of all the re-evaluated praise for 3D World, I decided to fire up my Wii U copy (which came pre-loaded on my console). Ironically, my daughter likes to hold the Gamepad and watch the intro to this game. She laughs and yells "Mah-Oh!" which is super cute.
Now strangely, my save file has been deleted. Ugh. But actually, it's not so bad. It kind of forced me to back into 3D World with fresh eyes, and play it right from the beginning all over again. Which has been... kind of great. After a couple of hours, I'm sort of seeing 3D World as possibly/probably my favorite 3D Mario game. It looks great, and the levels are fun and - gasp - actually encourage the exploration required to find all three green stars in each.
So yeah, I'm actually having a whole lot of fun here, and I'm glad that I decided to give this one another shot. I'm only in the middle of World 2 right now, but yeah, this is good stuff.
When I had started replaying this, I was just using Mario because, y'know, it's a "mario game," but last night I started using the Random button before each level. This randomly picks between Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Peach - each with their own unique (and familiar) physics. And this feature really bumps the game up for me. Y'know why? Because now it feels like a secret pseudo-sequel to Super Mario Bros 2 - the good one; Doki Doki Panic.
I've never hidden my adoration for the USA version of SMB2. That game rules so hard. And now, playing this semi-3D game with the same-ish versions of those four characters, I'm loving SM3DW even more. This is a genuinely great game, full of non-stop new surprises.
I'm now in World 3, and left off at the train level that is flooded with bullet bills. I remember this level being a pain for me the first time I played the game two years ago, and it's still a pain to me now.
I've mostly been playing the game as Peach now, which again makes it feel more like Super Mario Bros 2 USA 3D World or something. Which is awesome. However, after like 12 hours with this game, I've hit a wall.
For most of my play time I've had a ball playing (and replaying) stages, to grab as many green stars as I could WITHOUT resorting to a guide. And it's gone great. Every Captain Toad level is done. Every Mystery House is done. I thought I had an abundance of stars. And when I made it to Bowser's big tower... I found out I was short by TWENTY stars. Twenty. Wow.
Going back through all the worlds hunting for lost stars does not feel appealing to me. And using a guide would just completely suck the fun of exploration out of it for me. So I feel like I'm a stand-still sitting outside Bowser's tower.
That said, twelve SOLID hours of fun with a 3D Mario game? Who would have thunk it? I don't regret any of the time I've spent playing the game. And I COULD come back to it once I feel removed from it and refreshed. But at this point, I'm ready to move on.
Prior to this month, I think the only soccer game I've ever played is World Cup Soccer on NES. And that was because it was a Kunio-kun game. I've never been interested in soccer. I don't know anything about soccer. I don't understand the rules outside of "kick the ball into the net." And yet, these FIFA games get such critical praise. So I went and grabbed a super cheap copy of FIFA 18 and figured, what the heck?
Here's my ultimate history of soccer as a sport... I know that in Karate Kid, Daniel shows Elizabeth Shue how to bounce a ball on her knee. I know that Pele is a guy that was good at soccer. I know that Will Ferrell starred in Kicking & Screaming. I know that my friend Mike coaches his kid's soccer team and he said that the other dads take it super serious.
None of that helps me here. But I have played a TON of Rocket League over the past few years, so I know that soccer is kind of like Rocket League but with people instead of cars. Maybe there's hope for me.
So I started up FIFA 18 about a week ago. It's been a really tough week as it happens. Not to get into it all but we had to put our cat down - 13 years old - and it was really unexpected. So things have been super sad around our house. So it's kind of strange that my down time has been consumed by a video game about a sport that I know and care very little about.
But here's what's made it fun for me...
You can start a career as your favorite pro striker. But I don't know any. Or you can make a character, but I have no fantasies about being a great soccer player. But y'know who does like soccer? My brother-in-law, James.
Now this is super funny to me, but not anyone else reading this because you don't know James. But yeah, I'm playing FIFA 18 as my brother-in-law, which is hilarious to me. One time a couple of years ago, me, my wife, my sister, and James went up to New York and I was telling James about the movie Red Sparrow. On the bus ride home he decided to watch Red Sparrow on his cell phone, and I look over, and he's switching between Red Sparrow and the world cup and my mind was blown. I remember thinking, "what is wrong with this guy? Jennifer Lawrence is on his screen and he's looking at soccer scores?"
Oh, the other thing you need to know is that James loves bagels. One time, we helped my mom move and she got bagels for us all, and I watched James eat THREE bagels that morning. It was nuts. But the weird thing was, he wouldn't touch the Asiago bagels. Nope. This dude only likes PLAIN bagels. It's like... how does that work? You're into something, but only the most basic form of it? James is hilarious.
And so here begins the tale of Jimmy Bagels. He graduated from college - oh, yeah, we went to college together in real life, and I think I did a lot of things to embarrass him in college. He could tell you stories, but I'm the one writing. ANYWAY, in FIFA 18, Jimmy Bagels graduated from college and then instead of going to law school he was drafted by the New England Revolution.
So far things are going well. I played through the pre-season as Bagels and it was on the easiest difficulty since I'm so new at this. It was way too easy, so I kicked up to Amateur for the start of the season. A few games in, I think it's probably still too easy. I'm winning by blow-outs and there's no real challenge. But again, I'm still learning the ropes.
The weird thing is I did something I'd never expect myself to do - I googled the rules of soccer so I'd know why I kept getting offsides violations. So now I know how that works.
And yeah, weirdly I'm having a really good time with this game. It's solid. And it's genuinely exciting when Bagels gets a goal. I'm weirded out by the fact that I'm enjoying soccer as it's maybe the only major sport I've never cared about.
I've learned that if you kick the ball towards the net, and an opponent knocks it into the net, it doesn't count as a goal for you. Lame. Jimmy Bagels needs to put up some numbers. Those would count in Rocket League!
No matter. It seems that Blackburn Rovers have signed a one year loan contract to have young Jimmy Bagels come play across the pond. And while they're a minor, they still expect way more out of him than the NE Revolution ever did. There's more pressure, but it's making things more exciting.
It's strange to me. I've never cared about soccer. And yet, this game has me fairly hooked.
When I was in sixth grade, my buddy Kenny had a sleepover party for his birthday. I remember it was Kenny, me, my good friend Ted, and this kid Robert, and we just played NES games all night. And this memory comes back to me because it's Super Dodge Ball that stands out in my mind as the game we spent the most time on.
In hindsight, it seems weird that a dodge ball game would keep us so interested. And really, why would anyone buy a dodge ball game? But I'm glad Kenny did. Coincidentally, it was at Kenny's house that I first played River City Ransom as well. I don't know if HE knew this at the time, but both of those games were localizations of Kunio-kun games.
Though I did eventually play the GBA sequel, it's been a long, long time since I've gone back and revisited the original. And to be honest, I had some worry that the game wouldn't hold up. But, much like my recent run through of River City Ransom, it turns out that Super Dodge Ball is still a lot of fun. It's a little simple, sure. But it's still a lot of fun.
The rules and controls are all easy to pick up right away. In that sense, it's an easy pick-up-and-play party game. Maybe that's why it struck us so much as kids.
It's also a little on the easy side, at least on the default difficulty. I was able to breeze through the championship - including the "true" last boss, your own shadow team - in a single sitting.
But man, I really do love the Kunio series.
I stumbled upon Puzzle Fighter completely by accident back in 2009 or so. Back then, Gamestop was phasing out their GBA supply, and I'd often go to stores and ask to look through their boxes of stock. It was an insane time where you could get ALL of the big hitter games for under $10. And you could impulse buy a wide array of weirdo things that looked interesting for just a couple bucks.
So when I saw a Capcom game called Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo for under $5, how could I pass? It sounded weird enough to be worth a try. And boy was I right. This became my go-to GBA puzzle game. And over the years I've played (I think) every single version and re-release of this one. (FYI, the title of the game is sort of a joke. There was no Puzzle Fighter I. Although there was a game released simply titled "Puzzle Fighter" in 2017... on mobile, and it was delisted in 2018. WHY the heck didn't Capcom reboot the series for Switch instead?)
At any rate, this game is pure comfort food for me. I fired it up last night and blew through the arcade mode in a single credit. Then I decided to delete all save data and go through the Street Puzzle mode, which is a series of challenges - think of it like a campaign. That mode is more challenging, and should keep me busy for a couple nights anyway.
If you don't know, this is a game about dropping gems to form bigger gems and then use explosive gems to set off big chains. It's kind of hard to explain, but super awesome. I'd also note that Crystal Crisis - a somewhat recent Switch game - is a complete and total rip-off of Puzzle Fighter except it uses indie characters instead of Capcom characters. Crystal Crisis is not as good, though. It lacks the great music, the charming sprite work and satisfying FEEL of dropping/exploding gems. It also lacks Morrigan.
Apex Legends first launched back in 2019 on PC and Xbox One, a mere four months before I'd become a dad. At the time, I was still gaming on my Xbox fairly regularly and I remember booting it up one night - around midnight, because I'd still stay up super late to play games back then. I played just one round of Apex Legends. I had no idea what I was doing. My teammates were luckily polite and tried to be helpful, but did at one point sternly tell me, "we can't keep reviving you." I understood. I was dead weight. And as the match came to a close, it was just me and one enemy remaining. We did a stupid little gun dance and I pulled out a victory. My teammates were ecstatic. I was relieved.
It was a good enough first impression of the game, but not something I wanted to come back to soon. At the time, battle royales were not something I could enjoy very much. I bounced off PUBG and Fortnite pretty hard back then. And though my one game of Apex Legends was kinda sorta fun with an asterix of stress, it wasn't really my kind of game.
Really, I only checked it out because it combined the battle royale with a sort of Overwatch aesthetic. The idea was that instead of everybody being the same generic fighter with a cosmetic skin, you chose from a limited roster of specific heroes - each with their own unique abilities. It was an interesting variant on the genre for me. But after that one game, I just stuck with Overwatch.
Fast forward two years, and things have changed. Yes, I still love Overwatch. Hard. But I've also spend a lot more time with other sort of overlapping games. I've begrudgingly spent way too much time playing Fortnite for instance. And Splatoon 2 - a game I didn't connect with when it first launched - is now considered one of my top tier Switch games.
I figured that in 2021, a game that combines the battle royale nature of Fortnite with the heroes and first person view of Overwatch should be my bread and butter. So I downloaded Apex Legends upon its Switch launch and came away with two new first impressions:
1. I do like the game.
2. I'm terrible at it.
The game took a considerable amount of time to download, so I probably only got to play for an hour or so. But yeah, I'm not good. I played through the tutorial and then like maybe a half-dozen matches, and I never got a single kill, which feels embarrassing. I mean, I did get some damage done, and even an assist, but that's it. At any rate, I think I like this game enough to stick with it a while and see if I can improve.
Having played a bit more, I'm starting to the hang. However, it's hard for me to see Apex Legends sticking the same way that Overwatch, Splatoon 2, or Fortnite have with me. Let's break it down for a second...
Overwatch and Splatoon 2 are huge ones for me. I love both games dearly. And the common denominator there is that they are team based, but not just battle royales. Instead, they offer up maps with defined win-states. In that sense, I think of them as more like a sport. And I think that's what the real grab for me is.
As far as battle royales go, it's really hard to compete with Fortnite. And as dumb as this sounds, I feel like it's all the crazy licensed inclusions that keep me coming back to it. There's something to be said about a game where depending when I log in, I might be breaking into Stark Industries or Dr. Doom's mansion. Or I might team up with The Joker and Poison Ivy. Or I might get hunted by a Predator or a Xenomorph. Ultimately, the gameplay in Fortnite might veer on the side of shallow, as it's always kill or be killed. But it's presented in such a fun toybox kind of way that it never gets too serious, nor too stale.
That said, I'll most likely give Apex Legends a bit more of a chance, but when keeping in mind the other competitive games I could continue playing, it's kind of hard for me to see myself replacing any of them with this one.
Here's my proof that Apex Legends is not clicking with me...
I turned on my Switch last night with the intention of giving the game another go. Then I remember that there was a "Pachimarchi" event going on in Overwatch. Pachimari is a little onion-octopus thing if you don't know. He's sort of a mascot for the game. Super cute. We have a stuffed one that my daughter loves. ANYWAY, I fired up Overwatch instead and was immediately reminded why I love Overwatch so much. I played that instead and just thought about how Apex Legends didn't suck me in nearly the same way. And this was an event that offered onion-octopus cosmetics. So I mean.
After getting burnt out and completely disappointed with Bravely Default II, I decided to switch gears completely and play something totally different. And what's more different from a slow, systems heavy JRPG than Mortal fudging Kombat? Nothing!
It's hard to believe, but we haven't gotten a Mortal Kombat game on a Nintendo system in quite some time. The last one would have been Armageddon on Wii going way back to 2006. Though we did receive Injustice: Gods Among Us on Wii U, which kind of counts, given the DCU crossover stuff. But it's a bummer that Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2 didn't find their way to Wii U or Switch. And given such a long lull, it was actually quite the surprise when Mortal Kombat 11 was announced for Switch.
Now I'm far from the biggest Mortal Kombat fan, but then again, looking at the list of games, I did play ALL of the games since Armageddon on other platforms... Mortal Kombat Vs DC Universe and "9" on PS3, X on PC, and Injustice 2 on Xbox One. So maybe I am at least more than the casual fan that I thought I was. But I am selective. The original game is impressive for the time, but also pretty janky. Really it's Mortal Kombat II that would be my favorite of the early games. And for newer titles, I really enjoyed X and Injustice 2.
At any rate, Mortal Kombat 11 seems like a quality release. The fighting is sound, assuming you like MK games. Truth be told, I tend to lean way more towards Smash and Street Fighter these days. And even the Injustice series is a bit more endearing to me than MK given the DC characters. But, I can't help but have some nostalgia for this silly mess of a series.
There's a wealth of content here. I started with the tutorial mode, and didn't play through all of it, but found it a good starting point for someone who's been out of the MK mix for a while.
Currently I'm playing through the story mode, which I really like. I have to say that when I was younger and super into fighting games, I would have ignored a story mode and jumped right into playing online with friends. Nowadays, I really appreciate the single player content. And the story is ridiculous in an awesome way. It's like, y'know how there's so much 90' s nostalgia happening in pop culture now? Well, they've figured a way to merge the 90's with now, and the juxtaposition is solid. (Spoiler: it's time travel).
So far, my favorite characters to use in story mode have been Cassie Cage, Scorpion, and Kung Lao.
I was pretty excited about the announcement of Bravely Default II. The first game in the (loose) series would technically be Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes Of Light on DS, which was a spin-off thing that served as a sort of spiritual sequel to Final Fantasy V. In a time when modern FF games were going off the rails with emo haircuts and flashy 3D visuals and action elements, The 4 Heroes Of Light was a conscious throwback to the SNES days of turn based gameplay and DEEP systems meant to be broken.
Following that was Bravely Default, and then Bravely Second - both on 3DS which furthered this experience. And then there was Octopath Traveler, which doesn't seem to really be part of this series at all. But if you've played it, and you've witnessed the battle system, then you know it could have easily been released as Bravely Octopath.
In my mind, the Bravely series is kind of up there with the Xenoblade series. They're modern RPG's with a very old school mindset. They're meant for people who want to dive deeply into the mechanics; for people who are okay with playing an RPG for dozens of hours before they really even understand how things fully work.
I ended up pre-ordering Bravely II, because frankly I thought my daughter (under 2 yrs old) would like to play with the free coasters. I was right. She's already chewed one of them up pretty good.
I'm about 4-5 hours into the game now, and to be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about it.
On the one hand, it's exactly what I'd expect from the previous Bravely (proper) games. The systems are DEEP and fun to play with. Take the job system for example. I've only unlocked like five or six jobs to choose from so far, and they're a blast to play with and mix and match. The battle system where you can Brave (advance turns) or Default (defer turns) remains just as compelling as ever. The system where you can send out a boat to "adventure" for you (IE: earn you free loot) while you're not playing is a fine addition.
There are cons. Chief among them is the story, which I just can't seem to care about. I mean let's be real, the Bravely games are inherently old school, which general means cliches. Right out the gate, The 4 Heroes Of Light was in itself sort of a cliche based on the original Final Fantasy. And that's fine. But the last JRPG I got heavily sucked into was Dragon Quest XI over the winter, and going from a game that has some of the finest writing and story beats I've ever played to this is kind of jarring.
But whatever. I can skip whatever dialogue I want, so that's no biggie. The problem I'm really having is the intense unbalance of difficulty. The developers HAVE made it pretty transparent when you've grinded "enough" given that enemies will run away from you when you're overpowered. But that said, I'll find myself cruising along a dungeon only to find that the end-boss is WAY above my level and can crush me in just a few turns. It doesn't feel organic to me as you're never REALLY sure when you're ready to go for it.
The boss I'm at now is one that plays all these musical spells to buff his minions and he's just completely wrecking me and I have no idea how to counter most of it. It's to a point where it feels like the game halted to a stop and said "okay, time to stop being fun." Which is a bummer.
There's a lot to like about this game, but I feel like these curveballs are pretty damning. Take Octopath Traveler as a comparison. That game had some of the same issues, but somehow felt a little more balanced. Probably because the game did kind of scale with you, as you were free to tackle things in a different order and with different characters.
I don't know that I want to call it quits here yet, though. I mean I really did have high hopes for this one. High high hopes. That and there's two things I've heard about that I've yet to see...
1. There's apparently a card game you can unlock, and it sounds fun to me.
2. There's a Gambler job class that sounds to me like it could completely break the game in interesting ways, much like the "dances" is Octopath did.
... so we'll see. I'd really like to mess with both of those things, so hopefully I can pull it together long enough and see if this game can really redeem itself for me. Maybe it's just that this early patch of the game has bosses more difficult than they need to be.
I went ahead and grinded around that same dungeon for about an hour. I still wasn't sure I was ready to take on Orpheus, but I figured it was now or never, Bravely II. I WAS able to beat him, and... no real fan-fare. Just, alright, now the game can continue.
The amount of time I needed to spend grinding to get through this section has definitely turned me off a bit. And I had kind of sworn to myself that if I didn't beat Orpheus last night, then that was it - I was done. So I guess the game is getting the pass, and I'll continue on.
It's a very weird feeling I get playing this one. Let me use two completely different examples... Back when Shining Resonance came out on Switch, there were very few new JRPG's to choose from, so I was pretty excited to get that one. I ended up playing it for quite a while, but it was a pretty BAD game. It wasn't especially fun or interesting. I knew this, but I played on because I really wanted to be playing a new JRPG on my new Switch. Jump ahead, and when I think of playing Dragon Quest XI, by this point there were tons of JRPG's to choose from. But, my goodness, it was one of the GREATEST I'd played in a long, long time. I was thrilled to play. I looked forward to jumping back in whenever I had spare time all through my winter vacation.
Bravely II falls firmly between these two extremes. All of its systems make for a very compelling experience. However, the story is blah and the actual momentum of the game is poorly executed. After six hours I'm still in the first chapter of the game - and this is all while avoiding most side quests. Apparently there are six chapters, so I'm still very early in the game after six hours. I think that the two things that really interested me here (the card game, and the Gambler job) are both HOURS away from me still. It's tough for me to know that I may well need to play another 10-20 hours before even seeing the stuff I want to mess with.
We will see how this goes, but as of right now, Bravely II is pretty steadily losing my favor. That's always a bummer when you've been looking forward to a game for a year.
Being a Nintendo fan is both awesome and frustrating. Whenever they announce something it might be super exciting, or it might be totally baffling. And sometimes it's both. Such is the case with Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & The Blade Of Light, which you might also know as "the first Fire Emblem game."
Of course, back when Fire Emblem dropped on GBA in 2003 we westerners all assumed it was the first game in a new series. Or at least I did. But truth be told, it was the SEVENTH game - it was just the first to be localized.
Over the years, lots of Fire Emblem games have come to the States, both in the forms of new entries and remakes of old games. It became a cult-classic series, and then thanks to the inclusion of Marth (and a bunch of other characters) in Smash, pretty much a classic series proper. Truth be told, it's easily one of my favorite Nintendo exclusive series. Maybe my favorite.
So when it was announced at the end of 2020 that the original Famicom game would get an English localization and be brought to the eShop for a limited time, I was excited... but also baffled.
1. Why is a digital game being offered for a limited time?
2. Why does the super expensive and super pretty limited edition physical release NOT include an actual physical cartridge?
3. Why is a game that's free on the Japanese Switch Online service now $6 for those of us who live in America?
4. Why on Earth is Nintendo putting resources into localizing a game that's already been remade on the DS?
There's just so much head-scratching going on here. But at the end of the day, I could try to find the DS remake for a pretty penny on the aftermarket, or I could get the DS remake on the Wii U Virtual Console for $10, or I could just grab this new version for $6 and stop the nagging FOMO in my brain due to the limited release. So here we are.
Having said all that, I'm like four hours into Shadow Dragon and having a pretty good time. So I guess I've already gotten my money's worth, really. I mean, I spent the same on Among Us and was pretty let down by that new hotness. Meanwhile, this rusty old Famicom game is kind of a treat.
Look, there's no denying how rough around the edges this game is. But in fairness, it pretty much sparked a console genre. (Well, maybe that's unfair given that Famicom Wars was released two years prior). But still, I used to look at Shining Force as sort of the beginning of these kinds of strategy RPG's. But man, look at Shadow Dragon and it's clear where Shining Force took its inspiration from!
There's lots of little complaints I could make, but they seem unfair. I'm so used to the QOL improvements that the series has gotten as it's refined, but I have to stay in the mindset that this was the beginning and it is what it is. Yes, I'd love to instantly see how far my troops can move without just trying. Yes, there's a lot of info hidden away within menus. But what can you do?
Overlooking the roughness, I'm having a really good time going back to these antiquated roots of the series. I'm not making use of much of the new features. No rewinding or anything. I'm laying in the bed I've made with each turn. So we'll see how far I can make it.
I'll be turning 40 much sooner than I expected. So maybe an existential crisis is due? I don't know. But I feel like since the holidays I've been struggling to really enjoy a lot of the games I've been playing. I didn't feel like I had the time nor focus to dive into Mass Effect 3; I felt like Among Us was a game for younger folks, and the imposter was me - the old dude; Catherine felt way cooler when I was 29 than when I was 39; Pokemon Sword was just MORE Pokemon, and I've honestly played a lot of Pokemon in the past few years, and so on. Beyond that, the urge to collect new games has started to feel like a chore lately. It's like, how do I know what to buy if I don't even know what I'm in the mood to play?
I know Marie Kondo is kind of a buzz-word at this point, but the last time I read her book several years back, I was able to happily apply a lot of the logic to my own video game collection. So my wife re-borrowed the book for me to thumb through again. But all of this is sort of a side-rant.
The funny thing is that while I've been going through this whole WHAT GAME WILL BRING ME JOY kind of breakdown, I've been slowly chipping away at Shadow Dragon. This is an old game that I was apprehensive about handing over $6 for. Truth be told, a lot of the old NES games I've played lately have only kept my attention for a night or two. But I don't know. In a weird - really weird - way, this game has been an odd remedy.
1. It's a tried and true formula for me. I love Fire Emblem games.
2. It's simple. The game mechanics are pretty easy to grasp right away, given you've played Fire Emblem games before. The full map is laid out for you at the beginning of each chapter, thus setting up your new 'chessboard.'
3. It's challenging. I'm not coasting through, but rather having a good time devoting the hour or so before bed to clearing a chapter or two.
Honestly, when I downloaded this game it was more out of wanting to have that little piece of Fire Emblem history. I wanted to make sure I had this game before it disappeared from the eShop next month. And I figured it'd be something I'd mess with for an hour and then say "okay, I now have some first hand experience with the start of the Fire Emblem series." But strangely, I like this game way more than I expected.
I almost wanted to give up on Fire Emblem the other night. I had gotten stuck on Chapter 5, and had my party wiped out twice. Marth had a broken sword. There was some wizard enemy with strong thunder magic that was destroying us. I felt like I was up against a wall.
I took a break with some rounds of Overwatch and then came back to FE with a fresh brain. I created a screen for Marth so he could head towards an item shop. Meanwhile, my squad wiped out a bunch of grunts leaving only that wizard. Guess what? Turns out that wizard ran over to Marth and joined our team! So now I have a super deadly wizard dude in the lineup. Marth bought a new sword, so we crossed a bridge, headed west, met up with some more recruits and wiped out the remainder of the enemies. Chapter 5 is done, and I feel rejuvenated.
There is an alternate reality out there where Shadow Dragon was released on the NES in America. In that reality, I would have played this before X-COM: Terror From The Deep, and it would be my introduction to the genre. In this reality, Fire Emblem would be my long running favorite strategy RPG series; it wouldn't' have taken me until Awakening to get into the series.
As I keep saying, yeah, this game is rough around the edges. But it's also brilliant.