I received a copy of Monster Hunter Rise as an early birthday gift. The reviews for this one have been quite good, and I do find it interesting that this is a Switch console exclusive.
My history with the Monster Hunter series is limited. Back when I was heavily playing Xbox stuff, I got into Monster Hunter World and thought it was fantastic. Then sometime last year I went back and played Monster Hunter 3 on Wii U (and 3DS) and just couldn't get into it the same way. The obvious thing is that World (effectively, Monster Hunter 5) really sort of modernized and streamlined the game. Kind of. I mean, the Monster Hunter games are still really heavy and have mountains of menus to navigate and systems to understand. But World made a lot of efforts to make the series moderately approachable. The other thing about Monster Hunter 3 is that I hated the swimming sections. Thank goodness those didn't stick around.
Anyway, Monster Hunter Rise is the sixth mainline game, and it picks up where Monster Hunter World left off. Meaning, it's also streamlined - as best it can be for a Monster Hunter game. It also makes some interesting additions. For one thing, now you've got a dog that you can ride that can be really helpful not only for getting around quickly, but also for evasion during healing. The wirebug system is now used for gaining vertical mobility. This is interesting (and why the game is called 'Rise').
If you've never played a Monster Hunter game, you should know it's a super slow burn. Probably the first 30 minutes was character customization, really. Then there's tutorials to play through - helpful ones, luckily. Quests come in various flavors as well. There's the main quests of course, but then there's side quests and town quests, the latter of which tend to work as further tutorials and seem worth looking into.
In my first few hours, I attempted to play Rise solo. This was a pretty bad idea, and almost resulted in me thinking I wasn't into the game. I think I had forgotten that one of the things that made World click with me was the (random) teamwork aspect, whereas one of the things that made me bounce off of Monster Hunter 3 was that it felt so lonely and difficult to go alone.
Since switching over to playing the game with help requests turned on, it's made the experience way different, and way more fun. I've also gotten comfortable playing with a bow as my main weapon, at least for now. It just fits my desired play style. I think I've now knocked out three of the main quests, so I'm still really early in the game.
But Monster Hunter Rise is really good. But it's also not really a chill game. So I tend to have this thing now where I play a few quests and then log out because it can feel too demanding otherwise.
I've done some experimenting with weapons now, and it seems like I'm more of a light bow gun guy than a traditional bow guy. It's nice to not have to get stressed out managing stamina with your weapon. I'll say that much.
My only one complaint about this game - and it's not really about the game play - is that Rise seems to drop connections way more often than any other Switch game I've played. I very rarely got connection issues in hundreds of hours spread out among Overwatch, Splatoon 2 and Tetris 99. Yet, in Rise I've experienced several in just the past few days. There's nothing as frustrating as losing all of your teammates during a hunt.
But Monster Hunter is such a unique experience to me. On the surface, it's not that interesting of a game. Like, there's a very specific loop to it with very little variation. You basically go out, hunt one big monster, let it soak up your attacks for a long time, kill it, come back, upgrade your gear, and repeat. And yet... somehow, it's totally compelling. It sucks you in really good.
There's no denying that it's super satisfying to beat some behemoth. You're up against this gigantic beast that feels like an insurmountable obstacle. It fights back and hits hard. It tries to run away and hide. There are other, lesser creatures to worry about at times. Even the environment can work against you. But when you watch that monster fall, it does feel good.
Progress is slow in this game, but not glacial. Each upgrade to your armor and weapons is minor, but somehow feels major.
Right now, I've been sticking with a system of going back and forth between the single player and multiplayer quests. I've got 3-star quests open on the single player side, and 2-star quests in process on the multiplayer side. And I don't know what to say other than I'm having a pretty great time with Monster Hunter Rise.
Well, it took quite a few hours but I found something I don't like in Monster Hunter Rise: the rampage quests. Rampage is basically tower defense. I hated these in Monster Hunter World as well, and hoped that maybe they'd be forgotten in Rise. Nope.
These kinds of quests are tedious. They completely break the flow of the game. And even though it's a hub quest and I have help requests turned on, I've failed this one three or four times, and never had anyone join my game to give me a helping hand, which would have made it much easier to push through.
For now, I'm going to either take a break from Monster Hunter Rise, or just play more of the non-rampage quests and ignore this "urgent" request.
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 RPGs 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" that Octopath did.
...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 fanfare. 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 when I get to play this one. Let me use two completely different examples... Back when Shining Resonance came out on Switch, there were very few new RPGs 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 RPGs 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.
Never have I ever played a Musou game. I have just never had much interest. I mean, those Dynasty Warriors games looked slightly mindlessly fun when I saw Seth Cohen playing them on The OC. But meh. I can remember spin-offs coming out with popular licenses. There was a Fire Emblem one. And maybe Dragon Quest? I don't know. And then there was the original Hyrule Warriors, which I bought on Wii U and then never played.
But when Age Of Calamity was announced, it was this whole other thing. I was actually excited. Why? Because instead of being some random spin-off, it was actually a cannon prequel to Breath Of The Wild. And suddenly, making a game like this a Musou game made sense! Yes, the war that was referenced in Breath Of The Wild - the war that tore Hyrule apart and left it in the quiet shambles of Breath Of The Wild could be witnessed first hand.
Sidebar: I adore the two Kill Bill movies. They fit together like a glove. We've watched them back to back as a double feature. Of course, this was before we had a child. But what makes them brilliant is that they're two totally different movies, tonally. The first one is all action and blood and guts and loud music and vibrant colors. The second is slower, more dialogue, more backstory and somber.
I bring this up because that's exactly how Age Of Calamity and Breath Of The Wild work off of each other. The prequel is all war all the time... huge epic battles, with magic being cast in dizzying bursts of color and allies shouting out for help with bodies flying everywhere. And yet Breath Of The Wild itself is lonely, quiet, moody and sad.
Yes, this is a very different game from Breath Of The Wild proper. But it makes sense! It fills out a part of the timeline. And I feel like this proposed trilogy of Breath Of The Wild games will go down as maybe the best and most varied run of Zelda games on a single console ever. Maybe.
The quests are fairly long, by the way. Each has taken me 30-40 minutes, which means that I'm sort of approaching this game with a kind of "one or two quests a night" mentality. But that's fine. I like clear progress. I like manageable chunks.
The battles are epic. And I must say that this game only works for me as a part of the bigger Breath Of The Wild whole. Which is to say, I don't think I'd care about this game had it been just another stand-alone Hyrule Warriors game. It's the fact that it's part of the Breath Of The Wild story that's making it so compelling. It's revisiting locales and seeing familiar faces.
One thing I don't care for is the segments where you control the Divine Beasts. They feel clunky and tacked on. Luckily, they're brief.
The more I play, the more I understand how to use the characters. Link is still my favorite as I'm starting to get my head around using his skills in-battle. Throwing bombs or freezing enemies can be huge when you're up against bosses.
Meanwhile, Impa is insane. Now that I understand her ZR power, it's nuts. You basically lock on to enemies, and then absorb their energy creating clones of yourself. It's unreal to see a bunch of ghost Impas blasting extra damage at waves of foes like they're options in a shmup or something.
The bombast of this game is fantastic.
Around the midpoint of the campaign, I decided I was having a good time... but I think I felt the need to play something else. Not because I wasn't having fun, but because this game felt sort of like my Christmas game. And now that the new year is here, and everything, I just feel like I'm out of that mode. It's the same way I felt about Dragon Quest XI after my holiday vacation was over. Like it fit that time, but when that time was over, I was done for now. Which is to say, I'm sure I'll pick both of these games back up again at some point. But right now, I want to start something else. At least I can now say I've played and enjoyed a musou game.
There's a scene in High Fidelity I've always loved. Rob's being interviewed, and the journalist asks him what his favorite album is and he's just confused at the question. Like, favorite album for the club? For chilling out? What? It's too vague a question. When you're a casual fan of music, I guess you can easily have a favorite album. When you're obsessed, how do you even answer that?
I guess I've always felt the same way about games. Invariably, when people in my life (relatives, co-workers, etc) find out I'm a gamer they ask my favorite game. But like... how do you even answer that? My favorite game for relaxing? Or for co-op? Or like, my favorite game as a kid, or now?
But I came to a conclusion this week. If I really distill that question into its simplest form - my favorite game of all time. The game I've loved the longest, and played the longest, in the most versions. The game that I'd be cool with taking to that imaginary desert island? The game that could hold up to the most replays without getting old?
Dudes, my favorite game of all time must be Tetris.
Since receiving Tetris as a pack-in with my Game Boy in 1989, I've played so many variations that I can't even remember them all. NES, DOS, Super Nintendo, Game Boy Color, Gamecube, Dreamcast, DS, and I'm certain I'm leaving things out. Tetris never gets old to me.
In 2019 we saw the release of Tetris 99 - a game that I called the game I never knew I needed. It went on to be my most played game of the year.
So did I really need another version of Tetris when Tetris Effect was released? Maybe not. But I've been so into streaming Xbox games to my Surface Go that I can't seem to resist picking up new Xbox games anymore. I mean, this would be more Tetris, but on a 10" screen instead of the Switch's - what? 5" screen? - while listening to the TV. So yeah, when it dropped on sale for $25 instead of $40, it was a no brainer.
Tetris Effect was developed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi. If you don't know, this is the dude that made Rez. And Child Of Eden. And Lumines. That last one is really important to me. Lumines is a pretty huge puzzle game to me. One of the few that I'd put up there in the top tier. Like, nothing tops Tetris. But Lumines and Puzzle Fighter, those games come damn close.
But Tetris Effect is amazing. I say this as someone who's put like 200 hours into Tetris Effect in the past couple years. The thing about Tetris Effect is that it's basic Tetris at its core, but it's all about the experience and about the audio and visual stimulants. You've got crazy zen-like visuals going on like outer space stuff and underwater stuff, and then you've got pulsing trance music and it's all just like an insane trip. If you've played Rez or Lumines, you already know.
Beyond that you've got a hugely fully featured array of options. There's a single player campaign "Journey Mode," in three different difficulties. I knocked out all three in a couple nights - no bragging. Then you've got various single player challenges like the standard Marathon or Chill Mode or much, much crazier challenges. Then there's some intense multiplayer modes to delve into.
Maybe most importantly, there's a dearth of record-keeping. And I'm a guy who loves stats. I keep spreadsheet on everything. I love data.
So here we are. I'm telling you that I'm biased. I love Tetris. It's my favorite game. And I've played a lot of these games. Heck, in this generation alone I've picked up Puyo Puyo Tetris, Tetris 99 and now this. And y'know what? This is the most fully featured version I've ever played. It's like the ultimate Tetris... until the next one comes out? Who knows! But I'm sure I'll check out the next one and sink way too many hours into it too.
The last Paper Mario game I played was Thousand Year Door on Gamecube. I remember liking it, but that was a long time ago. So when I decided to grab The Origami King, I wasn't really sure what to expect, as the series has changed a bit over the time since that Gamecube game.
I mean it looks fantastic. The HD visuals of the paper and stickers and everything is gorgeous. Nintendo has definitely perfected that aesthetic. And honestly the writing is really good. Like genuinely funny, which is a rarity in video games.
But as an "RPG"...? Ugh. And I'm being fair here, I think. I went into the game knowing that Paper Mario games are RPG-lite at best. But still. This feels so shallow to me. There's no XP, which means that quickly random battles felt pointless to me. Things just feel really limited, which is not what I'd really like to see in a Mario RPG.
The battle system is fairly crappy. It's turn-based, which is good. There's a sort of rhythm thing going on that adds some extra oomph, I guess. But the whole spatial puzzle of moving enemies around? I'm not into it at all. I find it tedious and annoying.
The bigger issue I'm having is the flow of the game. Like, it's super hand-holdy most of the time. And extremely linear. I'm constantly being told I can't go somewhere I want to because "hey, don't you think we should be sticking to our objective?" Yet, other times the game is bad about telling you where to go.
I just finished finding four stones to open up the Earth... something. Now, in this area where the four stones were, is a giant stone tower on top of a mountain. I assumed that was what was going to open up. But every time I tried my travel mate would say "shouldn't we go find the Earth (thingy)?" and I'm like, I thought that's what I was doing. It turns out I needed to backtrack to a different area to open it. So it's just frustrating because momentum is constantly being stopped to tell me things I don't need to know, yet when I do need a hint, it's vague.
So far this is turning out to be a rather charming game that I just don't really enjoy.
I've now played through the first dungeon and beaten the first major boss of Origami King, and I'm still pretty underwhelmed. Again, the art and writing is top notch. But the gameplay? Kind of boring to me. I'm just not sure how long I can really stick with a "just okay" game like this.
As a fan of RPG's, I found it disheartening to only see my HP go up after playing the game for several hours. And the battle system? Not for me! I feel like the entirety of the battle system is like being forced to do Rubik's Cube puzzles while a stopwatch ticks down. Just not my kind of RPG. Y'know?
So I'm in a weird spot. I don't hate this game, but I don't really like it either - at least I don't actually like playing it all that much, even if I can see what they did successfully.
I guess my take on this one is pretty lukewarm.
Double Dragon IV seems like the sort of game that should be a home run for me. While I'd say I'm a fairly casual Double Dragon fan, I'm a huge fan of its Japanese sister series, Kunio-kun. I was enamored with Renegade long before I played Double Dragon. Though, I was really into Double Dragon II as a kid. Of course I'm talking about the NES versions of all of these - and they remain my preferred ports to this day. But I digress.
With Double Dragon IV Arc Systems gathered a bunch of original devs and had them make a new entry in the series that disregards everything after the NES trilogy. The game is designed to look like a long lost NES game, albeit in widescreen. And they even go so far as to toss in reference to a new gang called The Renegades, which to my mind is a way to more concretely tie in the two series. There's even a visit to Japan, which again seems to be pointing out that Double Dragon was always just meant to be sort of the Americanized spin-off Kunio-kun.
So how did Double Dragon IV turn out so meh? I'm not exactly sure, but my guess would be budget or time. This one feels like a total rush job meant to cash in on nostalgia. While certainly it's nice to see a throwback like this, it feels like the game works better on paper (or screenshots) than in actual execution. Sure there's some modern niceties that are well appreciated like button mapping and a full range of buttons to go along with it instead of the two-buttons the NES games had to utilize. And I'll admit that the cut scenes are a fun little addition. But ultimately the level design is so uninspired and poorly thought out that it just kills the game.
In Double Dragon II you had cool stuff like knocking enemies out of the door of a plane. There's nothing like that here. Instead, it's just the tired trope of walking right, clearing out a screen, and walking right again. Sometimes you climb up a ladder. That's about the extent of the variety. And this would be fine if the levels felt fair. But instead you have a 16:9 screen that's mostly vacant because the swarm of enemies is surrounding you tightly. You nary have a second to get on your feet before you're swallowed up by the offending gang. It's just... not fun.
I do think it's cool when you see the cut scene where it says "meanwhile..." and cuts to Marion getting kidnapped from the original Double Dragon, though. I will say that that's a neat touch. So again, it does feel like they were at least trying to make this a fun entry for fans. But truth be told, I've only been able to make it to Stage 8 (out of 12) and the blandness of the levels makes replaying them a total slog. This really juxtaposes harshly with how awesome the levels were in classics like Double Dragon II and Renegade on the NES - nevermind bonafide masterpieces like River City Ransom. So I'm calling this one quits without seeing it to the end, which is a bummer because apparently beating the game unlocks "The Tower" which is a kind of endurance mode that unlocks new playable characters. Oh well.
It's weird that it's been so long since I've played a mainline Animal Crossing game. The original was one of my favorite Gamecube games of all time. I sunk so many hours into that one that I actually took a break from GAMING for a couple of years afterward. And then I played a bunch of that game again when I got back into gaming, haha.
Oddly, I actually bought the 3DS entry when it came out because my wife and I had listenend to a podcast where Brie Larson talked it up so much that we were both interested. Then I ended up giving the game to my wife and I never actually played it.
But Nintendo couldn't have picked a better time to launch New Horizons. With everyone shut in their homes due to Coronavirus, this thing flew off shelves. So much so that I couldn't get a copy for my birthday last month. But finally I was able to track a copy down, and spend some time with it.
Like many of Nintendo's first party offerings this generation - think Smash Ultimate or Mario Kart 8 - it feels like New Horizons is meant to be a sort of DELUXE EDITION of everything the series has done before. Which is fine. If you want to play the ultimate version of Animal Crossing in 2020, you're in luck.
Animal Crossing is of course a game about "nothing," at its heart. It's a sandbox and you can really just do whatever you want. Sure, there are goals. But it's up to you to progress that story, or just plant pretty flowers or whatever you feel like. Back in 2010 or so when I played the GCN game again last, I spent so much time doing nothing but just trying to build the best collection of NES games in my village. My neighbors hated me because I never talked to them, and my house was full of cobwebs. I ducked out on Tom Nook because I owed him a lot of bells.
To start off New Horizons, I only had one thing in mind: get an aquarium onto my island ("Pandora") ASAP. So that's what I've been focusing on in the early game. I immediately built a fishing pole and started bringing fish to Tom Nook, and then to Blathers. It's been super fun exploring the island and catching NEW fish (hello, squid!).
In the meantime, I've racked up Nook Miles and crafted new things. I paid off my tent, and a house is being constructed. The museum is coming to town soon. I took a trip to a random island and brought by coconuts to sell. I'm truly having a blast doing nothing too serious. And that's exactly what makes the AC series so good.
You can dismiss Animal Crossing as "Busy Work: The Game," but I'm okay with that. And sometimes that's what your brain needs. These little menial tasks, each one checked off as "done."
Now I've got a house instead of a tent, and the museum is under construction. I've been gathering building supplies for Timmy Nook to help get the visitor's center set up. None of this sounds exciting, but that's the point. This is a true relaxation game, and I love it.
It was an interesting night on Pandora. First Tom Nook announced that the museum was open. So me and my wife went and looked at the aquarium for a while. Good stuff, but lots of work today - lots of empty tanks.
Then I got a visitor who dropped in to gift me some iron nuggets so I could get the Shop built with Timmy Nook. He also gave me some extra gifts and bells, which was super nice.
After that, I received an invitation from my buddy's daughter to come check out her island. When I got there, I found she had pulled a prank on me and wouldn't actually let me in, instead demanding that I leave a gift of cherries and get out. Haha.
Then she invited me back, and gave me free reign over her orchards where I was able to pick up a bunch of coconuts, pears and apples to bring back and sell for big bucks. I'll tell ya, there's always something to do in New Horizons.
I think the initial excitement of "NEW ANIMAL CROSSING GAME" has worn off, and now I'm not pulling myself in every direction to do stuff constantly. Instead, the game now feels like a more gradual paced thing. Something I'll jump into briefly each night to see what's up. Maybe have one specific goal each night kind of thing.
I'm working on recruiting some new villagers right now, and I've had three say they're coming, but they haven't arrived yet. I did upgrade my house, though.
I spoke too soon. Things are happening. I built a bridge. Three new villagers are moving in soon, so I'm out collecting furniture for their houses. So things are happening. I guess I don't like the days when there's nothing really happening, and I'm just waiting for a construction to finish up or whatever. But yeah. This game is a good time suck when it's working out right.
They say that before you die, your life flashes before your eyes. That's the premise of Arise: A Simple Story. Of course, the "simple story" here is a human life. And while we are all complex beings with twists and turns in our own stories, when you boil it down, we probably all share some common milestones – both big and small, that sort of define the plot points of our own stories.
Arise is at its heart a 3D platformer – a genre I tend to not care much for. However, the game's main gimmick is the ability to rewind and fast forward time a brief bit. Given that you're basically in limbo, living out the major memories of your life before slipping away, the ability to play with time makes sense. It also makes for more of a puzzle-platformer than your average Mario 64 clone. In some ways it reminded me of Journey in its arty lean, but it also felt way more "game" than just an experience.
In some ways, Arise feels a bit like "Midlife Crisis: The Game." And here I am, about to turn 41 in a few months. So there's that. But yeah, the game certainly hit me in the feels at times. Both good and bad. The first couple of stages revolve around simple and lighthearted memories. You relive a first kiss with the metaphor of snow melting come spring, and the simple pleasure of flying a kite as a child utilizing some beautiful imagery of sunflowers. Then... your boyhood crush's family moves away, and the game steers into heartbreak for your first experience of loss. In this stage the point was driven home by the landscape literally being split apart under your feet.
Then things take a darker turn in tone. The stage called "Alone" was legitimately creepy at times, with shadowy figures swarming around you. Keep in mind, this is a game devoid of combat. It's all about solving the environmental puzzles to march forward in time. I think this chapter was about the scariness of striking out in the world on your own.
Then there was "Romance," in which you're constantly spinning and flying, sometimes with dreamy images of the full moon behind you. It's actually a bit trippy, but sweet. Moving on, was "Flower," which was filled with egg/sperm imagery and seriously looked like the stage took place in a womb. Love and everything that comes with it certainly makes sense for defining moments in ones' life.
And then we're greeted by a total gut-punch. The next chapter is about the death of your newborn child. I really didn't see that one coming. And with a two-year old running around my house, it actually knocked the metaphorical wind out of me. Just as brutal was the follow up chapter "Solace," in which you must deal with your wife's grief. This one had some amazing metaphorical imagery, and definitely pushes the old "games as art" argument forward. The stage was all about putting the literal world back together. At times you were repairing the land beneath your feet, repairing an actual rift between you and your wife. It's heavy stuff.
And then it gets worse. "Alone" is a chapter whose title should have been a spoiler for me, but again, I was saddened by realizing it was about losing your wife. Game-wise, this by far the most frustrating chapter with its classic "ice level" mechanics of sliding around on ice, and easily dropping into frozen water. I had to replay parts of this level many times.
Finally, the game ends with "Hope." Given that we all know the ending of the game before it even starts (you die), it actually had a happy ending that I won't spoil here but instead just say that it did briefly warm my little heart. Alone: A Simple Story was a cool and well made little indie game. While its themes have certainly been done before in other games, and while other games have hit me harder on an emotional level, I was impressed with it. I think my biggest surprise was that instead of leaning so hard into the emotion and story, the developers did actually put work into making this a game that's fun to play. Sure it was frustrating at times, but it was overall a fun and unique experience.
My biggest complaint would be the lack of replayability. I mean, the story is the story and I feel like I've seen it and don't need to see it again. The gameplay was solid, but not so compelling that I'd want to subject myself to it again. In that sense, it feels like a genuinely good but not great game. Something I'm glad I played, and definitely something worth talking about. But not quite great enough to feel the need to replay.
I keep a Google Doc with a list of upcoming games of interest each year. And on that Doc, I've had Dragon Quest XI listed for quite some time. It seemed like one of the "big ones" for 2019. I guess because it was a new Dragon Quest game that was coming to console rather than just 3DS.
Generally speaking, if I'm already interested in a game, I don't bother with a demo. I tend to want to just wait for the full release. But this time was different. See, Dragon Quest XI's demo is estimated to be around ten hours long. And here's the thing: I'm not actually a huge Dragon Quest fan. I played the original game a ton as a kid, but only dabbled with II and III on GBC later. I played V on DS but lost interest after eleven or so hours. And VIII - often considered the best in the series - I tried starting twice over the years and lost interest very quickly. So here's the thing; as generous as a ten hour demo is, it's totally possible that that's all I'll need for this game.
I have to admit up front that I'm a much bigger fan of the Final Fantasy series. You can argue that the Dragon Quest games are 'better' games with 'better' stories, but I don't know. Something about the varying quality of Final Fantasy has always just struck me as more interesting and unique.
The other big thing I need to admit is this: I don't care for the art in most Dragon Quest games. The way the characters look? Not for me. It's that same artist that made Dragon Ball Z right? Yeah. I'm not into that look. At all. Which says nothing about how the game plays, but just saying.
Anyway, I've played maybe 40 mins of the game so far and I'm mixed on it so far. The world is really pretty. The slimes are super cute. Unfortunately, the 2D mode is absent from the demo so that kills that for me. But it seems... alright. A little too talky right now, which is making it really slow to get going. Essentially, it's been walking in a straight line through some caves and fighting two or three slimes at a time. Fairly boring. And the leveling is slow.
I'm sure it picks up as there are fans out there who I know that have gushed about the PS4 release and put in over a hundred hours. So we'll see.
For some reason I decided to fire up that Dragon Quest XI demo again. And y'know what? I'm glad I did. I'm about two hours in now and it's actually picked up quite a bit and is a way better game than my first impression gave it. Granted, I went in with low-ish expectations and only had played about thirty minutes. But still.
What I found interesting was this - there's the usual trope of "you're the Luminary" and you need to go talk to a king or whatever. You know the old cliche in RPG's of how you're the "chosen hero" or whatever? But when you get to the king he's like "no! Dude! The Luminary is a bad omen! You gotta die!" I'm paraphrasing. But I don't know, turning that trope on its head seems interesting.
Setting up tactics and letting the battles play out makes grinding feel brisk. I'm level 5 now. And I've got a second party member, Erik. So yeah. I'm enjoying it more now. I think I'm gonna do some grinding for new gear for a bit. I might even do some side quests to make this demo last. Apparently the demo is about ten hours or so, and we'll see how much fun I can get out of it without paying $60.
After spending some more time with this demo, I have to say that Dragon Quest XI is so good that it's actually making me retroactively like the Dragon Quest series even more as a whole. The more I think about it, yes I was more into Final Fantasy on NES than I was Dragon Warrior... but Dragon Warrior has enough nostalgia for me that I rebought the game three times - on GBC, and later Android, and again on the Switch eShop. And while playing Dragon Quest V and Final Fantasy IV on DS back-to-back was borderline stupid, I had a lot of fun with Dragon Quest V - and I'll always remember that game as something I played in waiting rooms while bringing my wife to doctor's appointments when we were expecting our daughter.
Yes, the more I play Dragon Quest XI, the more I'm thinking about the series as a whole. The more I want to look into the rest of what I've missed. There's something about this game sort of being the perfect Dragon Quest game that's made me appreciate the series. And that's a good thing.
Even the art style. For years I've talked about how I don't care for the art. I'm not a fan of Dragon Ball Z, so I've always been turned off by the look of the Dragon Quest games and Chrono Trigger and so on. But all of a sudden, it's like it makes sense here. The Dragon Quest games are a very manga take on the very western Dungeons & Dragons tropes. All the sudden that makes these monsters and heroes look more charming to me with that in mind.
I'm still a bigger fan of Final Fantasy as a whole. But part of what draws me to that series is that it's kind of a mess. There's some baffling decisions and some truly bad games and that can make for interesting exploration. Will this be a good Final Fantasy or a bad one? Dragon Quest on the other hand, I mean Dragon Quest XI is a SLOW burn for sure, but the writing is insanely good. The pacing is quite obviously intentional.
I'm really glad I've given this game another chance. It seems like the kind of game I could play 'forever.' Like Breath Of The Wild, it's the sort of game I might play in thirty minute spurts for months. Or I might binge several hours during a storm. Or I might drop it for months and then come back to it fully invigorated. I think this might be the most perfect Dragon Quest entry - even for someone who's played a few of them in the past but took them for granted.
Okay, so Dragon Quest XI is turning out to be one of my favorite modern JRPG's in a long time. I think the last one I got this into was Octopath Traveler, but that felt like more of a throwback. This is like a truly modern take, and versus a lot of the stuff I've played such as recent Final Fantasy entries or Shining Resonance Refrain, This game blows that stuff out of the water.
The world is huge - along the lines of Breath Of The Wild. Probably even bigger. And yet things are thrown at you at such a pace that everything feels just right. I was three hours in when the crafting mechanic was introduced. At first I rolled my eyes. I hate crafting in games. And yet... It's so good that I actually spend time trying to perfect the stuff I was crafting. They've streamlined everything here. Don't have enough found-crap to craft what you want to craft? No problem! Just pay for the ingredients. Thank you, Square Enix. Thank you.
And even the tropey stuff is well thought out. We got back to Cobblestone, our hero' s hometown and everything looked normal except nobody remembers me. Guess what? It's a fever dream. The village was burned to the ground in our absence and we're talking to ghosts. All of this was revealed with trippy VHS artifacting. It was awesome.
I love this game. I love that it reminds you what you last did when you fire it up so you don't forget where you were in the story. I love that you can find in-menu what your goals are for each quest. I love battling. I love the gigantic world. I love the freedom. I love that I'm four hours into a demo and that's not even half. A physical copy of the game is on my wishlist now. I'll be happy to pick up a copy once the demo has run its course.
Well, I finished the demo which is kind of a bummer. It took me under six hours to get through the demo, although I didn't do any side quests. As it stands, Dragon Quest XI is one of the best RPG's I've played in a long time. And I look forward to delving back in once I pick up a retail copy.
Nearly ten months after playing through the big demo, I've just now fired up Dragon Quest XI's actual physical copy which has been sitting on my shelf for a while. I don't know, something about the Thanksgiving holiday made me feel like playing some quality dungeony, dragony RPG.
I was worried that I'd forget what was going on from when last I played, but thank goodness there's a little recap when you fire up a save.
Soon enough I was transported to an area in which I was in a 2D world. And then I went off on a quest that was... OMG... I recognized where I was. I was in a village from the original Dragon Quest. Absolutely stunningly brilliant, this game. After that I met a prince and pretended I was him to win a horse race and impress his parents and the village, and then we set off to kill some big mythical creature that he was too scared of.
In the few hours I played last night, I was immediately reminded just why I loved the demo so much. And man, really this few hours even raised the bar on that demo. This game is incredible. Easily my favorite Dragon Quest game (though I haven't played all the mainline games yet admittedly). But wow. This isn't just a really good Dragon Quest game, it's one of the finest, most well crafted JRPG's I've ever played. This game feels like a defining RPG of the generation.
I've been playing Dragon QuestXI all week while I've been on Christmas vacation. It's become a before bed routine to bang out some progress. I've seen mermaids and demons trapped in paintings and ice witches and you name it. This game does an incredible job of throwing a million things at you all while keeping the pace brisk.
I'm not sure how close I am to the end of the main campaign. I've seen the great tree fall if that's any indication. But I have so many superlatives to lob at Dragon Quest XI already. It's one of the best Dragon Quest games I've ever played; one of the best JRPG's I've ever played; one of the best of this generation; etc, etc etc.
I'm a longtime fan of card games. Not real cardboard card games, though. No. I've never really had a group of friends interested enough in those to get me interested. Once, when I was in junior high a friend of mine spent an afternoon trying to get me to understand how to play Magic: The Gathering. It didn't catch on with me. But over the past couple decades I've been easily sucked into video game card games. Big time.
Hearthstone was the biggest time-suck for me. When that game came out, I played it nightly on either my tablet or PC at the time. This went on for... well, years. I got into all the expansions and everything. So for me, most card games will be compared against Hearthstone.
So with that bouncing off point, I'll address Slay The Spire - a game that I've probably dumped somewhere in the range of 60 hours into over the past year. It's not really like Hearthstone at all. But what it DOES kind of remind me of is those single-player expansions for Hearthstone.
A single player card game seems kind of shallow in this day and age. But somehow, Slay The Spire makes it super compelling. Like other deck-builders, you pick a class which limits your pool of cards. But what makes it unique is a couple of things...
1. Slay The Spire's map is randomly generated. And so you must choose your route wisely. You'll want to battle grunts to gain cards. You'll want to battle elites to gain bigger perks. You'll want to get to shops to buy (or remove) cards, but you'll need enough money to do so when you get there. You MAY want to hit up ?'s depending on what you're looking for.
2. You build your deck in real time, and then it's gone forever when you're run is over. This makes the card game feel like a total roguelike. You can come up with an idea of how you want your deck to work, but you need to find those cards. Or more importantly, you need to ADAPT to the cards you do find.
All of this makes Slay The Spire feel different than your usual deck builder. There's no long game to think about here. Instead, you need to make wise decisions in the now, and you need to be flexible. It's a combination that really works.
I've actually beaten the game at least a half-dozen times. Always with the Silent. All my successful runs came from using a strategy I like to call "poison-shield." Basically, I stock up ONLY on cards that either (A) inflict poison, or (B) give me shield. If I get a chance to ditch a card, I get rid of standard attacks. Then it's all about putting up my shield, and inflicting as much poison as I can each round. It's death by a thousand cuts. And it's super satisfying when those multipliers start increasing and you're watching 100's of points of poison compound upon a boss.
For the past couple weeks I've been trying to beat the game as the Ironclad. I can make it to the last boss, but can never quite succeed. Here I've been trying to build up shield, and then dole out damage via strength buffs or inflicted damage based on shield strength. It's fun - not AS fun as the Silent. But fun.
The point is that what is superficially a simple single player experience, is actually pretty deep, and very addicting. I've unlocked all the cards for those first two classes, and have dabbled with the third (a robot, who I don't care for as much) and the fourth (a newly released ninja who switches between attack and defense buffs, and is kind of fun). On the surface, Slay The Spire seems like the kind of game I'd have played for maybe a dozen hours, beat once, and moved on from. But instead, it's something that continues to suck me back in.
Great game, this one.
UPDATE: Today is my last day of summer vacation, 2022. I've played Slay The Spire for 193 hours on Xbox. And I just beat The Heart. I feel like a champ. It's a rare achievement apparently with only 2-3% of players pulling it off. I've been trying like hell for weeks, myself.
The funny thing is I didn't even feel like I had a winning deck. I did it on Ascension I, and battled a fair amount of Elites in Acts 1 and 2. So that probably helped, because the relics I grabbed did help me out a bit. But it wasn't an ideal deck, nor ideal relics (those would all be poison and block in my book). I managed to slim down my deck quite a bit. I only grabbed really good blocks, and as much poison as I could. I had a couple of Caltrops and a Thorns relic. And somehow I managed to grab three copies of Noxious Fumes which was nice.
But I had no cards to multiply my poison. I had no way to conserve block between turns. I don't know, it just didn't feel like an ideal enough run. Certainly I've done runs with a better loadout. So I was in total shock when I approached the Heart with only like 30 health remaining and somehow watched his health tick down rapidly between turns. Maybe I got lucky, or maybe I've just put in so much time with this game that I could just play with a higher IQ. I don't know. But I felt like a total boss, and it was an awesome way to end my summer vacation.
Slay The Spire was released for consoles in 2019, and will go down as one of my favorite games of the 2010's, no doubt.