Here's my short and sweet report of Future Blessings' eight routes and stories, dear fellow gamers. Without further ado, let's go for it! (Spoilers ahead!)
The Sequel Routes
Those routes are incredibly short, but they all have one redeeming quality: they offer various solutions to Cardia's poison issue, allowing the lady and her beau du jour to enjoy physical intimacy — probably for all eternity, since all those routes also imply a wedding to come.
— Saint-Germain: After all the gloom and doom of Saint-Germain's route in Guardian of Rebirth, we get treated to a light-hearted route that fully shows Saint-Germain's kind and, dare I say, human side. Given his backstory, it's all too easy to treat the Count as a supernatural being of sorts; but the truth is that he started out his life as a human, and he remains a human despite his extraordinary longevity. His sequel route gives a welcome insight into his psyche and some of his relationships prior to meeting Cardia and the gang, and treats us to a really touching ending. Needless to say, I like Saint-Germain's arc much more after playing that route.
— Van Helsing: It seems that after painting Van Helsing as the resident douche in the original game, the writers wanted to show a softer side of him; that's how we end up with a route featuring an insecure, shy vampire hunter who frets and agonizes about how to convey his overflowing love for Cardia. The whole thing is quite consistent with Van Helsing's angsty personality, while still managing to be genuinely unexpected and surprising. I would lie if I said that I liked Van H's arc, but I have to admit that his sequel route redeems his character quite a fair bit. I only have one pet peeve with the guy: his darn glasses, which are way too feminine. Combined with his too-stylish haircut, those glasses makes him look more like an butchy middle-aged secretary than like the 'human weapon' he's supposed to be.
— Impey: The crew's resident goof gets a lovely ending, rife with adventure and sweet, sweet romance. The writers keep weaving the whole Jules Verne thread, taking a page from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and sending the young couple straight into deep sea exploration. Impey is more mature and assertive while still keeping his youthful, enthusiastic side; add to this an unexpected yet welcome bit of expertly handled steaminess, and you get much deeper and better character than the one we got to know and not necessarily love in the original game.
— Lupin: The gentleman thief's route is quite inconsistent — just like his whole arc in the series, really. It starts as a funny and playful romp, in which a pouty and mischievous Cardia tries to find a way to throw her all-too-confident lover off balance and make him blush and feel embarrassed. The whole endeavour half-succeeds, after which the tone gets all serious as Cardia muses about what kind of person her father used to be when he was still human and sane. The route then turns into a clumsy attempt to rehabilitate the late Isaac Beckford — which, then again, only half-succeeds. Lupin's route, half-baked is thy name.
— Victor: In my opinion, Victor's arc was just perfect as it was. The original game gave us tons of sweet romance as well as a fulfilling conclusion; there was really nothing to add, and the writers themselves probably realized this. But since they had to come up with those sequel routes for FB, they pulled out the whole Idea thing out of their hat and served us that heavy-duty, dramatic story in which Cardia's Horologium remains a ticking time bomb and the happy new couple must face the dire prospect of being separated sooner or later, with Cardia dying in the process. Hey, how do you like your honeymoon now? Still, Victor's route always had that bittersweet tone to it, and those new developments could be seen as a natural extension to GoR's events; that is, if said developments didn't house the biggest plothole of the whole game. The issue is: why is Cardia's existence considered a deadly threat only in Victor's route? There is nothing specific to Victor's route or to his love story with Cardia that justifies Idea's fears: the crux of the matter is that Cardia's Horologium is not fully neutered and that Victor, who provides the means to neuter it temporarily, will not be around forever to do so. Fair and nice; but this situation arises in all routes, not just Victor's one; so why the heck does Idea pop up solely in his route? Or do they try to recruit him in all routes, unbeknownst to us players? If that's the case, why do they leave Cardia off the hook? And why on earth would Victor spend potential eons brewing medecine for a woman he doesn't even get to bonk? If anything, Idea should appear in all routes but Victor's: it's pretty obvious that if he's with her, he's gonna try his hardest to heal her; on the other hand, if she's with another beau, life and circumstances will keep them apart and he's just not gonna try as hard. This whole situation is a big fat plothole and nothing else, full stop. I'll keep Victor's perfect route in GoR and treat that sorry sequel as non-canon.
The brand-new stuff:
— Shirley's Story: This is by far the longest story in that sequel, and it's an obvious attempt to give Cardia a female friend and craft a heart-pounding adventure around it. The whole thing kinda fails, mostly because of poor writing. Cardia and new girl Shirley become friends a mere two hours after meeting, after which their friendship is taken for granted and never questioned again. That instant bond would be marginally fine if the rest of the story were solid, which is unfortunately not the case. First, the featured mafia clan is as unconvincing as it gets: what kind of mafia doesn't kill anyone and refuses to dabble in drug trafficking? The writers themselves probably realized that the whole thing sounded unrealistic, because they tried to rebrand the clan as 'vigilantes' of sorts halfway through the story. Too little, too late, I'm afraid. Then, Lupin's crew demonstrate their whole range of superhuman and utterly ah hoc abilities; but that's pretty much business as usual, so I'll let that slip. What I cannot let slip is the fact that the big baddie, who killed hundreds of innocent citizens and was ready to flood Britain under a lethal drug, turns out to be evil because of a childhood trauma, after which he's forgiven nearly instantly. The fact that he's killed off-camera in some kind of freak accident, just so that Shirley's won't dirty her pure white hands killing him in a bout of revenge, doesn't sit well with me either. That whole story is weak and unsatisfying, and it brings little to nothing to the Code Realize lore — all the less so as that precious friend of Cardia was never mentioned in GoR's story and is never mentioned again in the sequel routes.
— Holmes' Route: This is probably the most derivative, 'fanfic-y' route in the whole game: not only do we get Sherlock and his foil Dr. Watson, but we also get Moriarty and the Reichenbach Falls, all things canon in the universe created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It's extremely hard to play that route without making constant associations with the BBC's Sherlock; Cumberbatch's and Freeman's faces popped up in my head every now and then as I played, and that's with me never having watched a single episode of the series. Good luck playing that route without mental interferences if you're a hardcore fan of the whole thing. Apart from that, Holmes comes across as a bit flat; I'd wager that this is mostly due to the toning down of his character, with the writers getting rid of such otome-unfriendly idiosyncracies as Holmes' drug habit and antisocial behaviours. The shortness of the route, combined with the fact that Holmes is a mere supporting character that we don't get to know that much in GoR, probably also plays a part in making Holmes the most transparent and unconvincing of all the Code Realize beaus.
—Finis' Route: A fascinating and engrossing route, if only because it's non-romantic and features a brother and sister pair that don't end up cavorting with each other. Well, I guess Otomate adverted their own tropes pretty neatly with that one, now didn't they? Of course, Finis' route remains an Otomate creation through and through: not only is it FB's trademark confinement route, but it's rife with drama, despair and denial. Oh, the thrill! Getting Finis back from the brink of insanity and saving him from his own masochism is no small feat indeed, and the route kept me on my toes until the very end. It's pretty much a perfect route in my book; and although the game describes it as a story that "could have been", I'd be tempted to view it as the canon of all canons as far as Code Realize's overall story is concerned. I mean, Cardia can easily hook up with any of the beaus after she's done rescuing her dear brother, right? My only pet peeve with that route is the fact that Finis never changes his haircut or outfit, even after being rescued by Cardia. Sure, the other characters don't do that either; but their outfits and hairdos are more normal, while Finis' whole style is utterly bizarre and unpractical. I would have loved to see him without his Princess Leia-buns and his corset thing, if only in the ending sequence.
—The Delacroix Skits: This is not really a route, just a collection of sweet little scenes that are often more humorous that anything else; and yet, it's unmistakably romantic in nature, if only in a veiled way. I mean, there is no mistaking Delacroix's blush when realizing that his head is resting on Cardia's tighs, and there is even less mistaking Cardia's intentions when she starts imagining a handsome adult Delacroix playing around with a kid that sports the exact same hair colour as herself. Only time will tell if a full-blown Delacroix route becomes a thing; but if it does, I'd wager that the vampire king could become a new fan favourite in a flash.
There you have it, dear fellow gamers: my whole route report for Future Blessings. Gee, I probably spent as much time writing that report as I did playing the game! But that's the rule with fandiscs, I guess. Now, will I succumb again to the lure of the Code Realize fandisc and purchase Wintertide Miracles in early 2019? Only time will tell! Until then, dear fellow gamers, a million thanks for reading as usual, and be my guest anytime!
I wasn't initially planning to purchase Code Realize's sequel/fan disk, because: a) this is far from being my favourite series under the VN sun, and b) it was said to be short and thus not worth its 40-bucks price tag. But then came the Black Friday sales on the PSN, and Future Blessings was granted a massive 50% discount; and since I was in the mood for careless spending and VN action at the time, I caved in and purchased it.
My verdict: FB is most definitely short, and pretty light on content. However, that is not the game's main issue; that main issue would be how utterly pointless and redundant most of said content is. Without spoiling anything, what we have here is:
— Five sequel stories involving the beaus from Guardian of Rebirth. Those stories are painfully short, and definitely not meaty enough to leave a lasting impact. They really should have been included in the original game, if only to provide a sense of closure that was sorely missing in most of said original game's routes.
— Two brand-new romantic routes involving characters that were not dateable in GoR. Those routes are pleasant enough, and one of them comes close to single-handedly justifying the purchase of the whole game. If the game came with a 10 bucks price tag, that is.
— One exclusive side story taking place during the events of GoR. Probably the weakest link here: despite the writers' best intentions, this side story comes across as asinine, pointless, and poorly written to boot. It's also ridiculously derivative: it feels like a fanfiction of GoR, which is itself very much a giant crossover fanfiction.
— A set of semi-romantic skits involving a non-dateable character from GoR. Oh, such wasted potential! Those skits could have become an epic romantic route, if only the writers had bothered developing the whole thing. Instead, they merely give us a teaser and let us imagine what might happen. Or is it rather a trailer, alluding to a future route in yet another Code Realize fandisc? At any rate, it's a cheap move. A frustrating cheap move.
If you read my last post about GoR, dear fellow gamers, you may remember that I had a whole list of things I wanted to see in the sequel. Now, was my wish Otomate's command? Well, it was indeed! Granted, I didn't get everything I wanted; however, I definitely got more than I dared hope for. (Spoilers!) I got my Leonhardt x Victoria love story, with the sequel routes firmly implying a greater intimacy between the pair; I got my Finis route, not romantic but still full of love; and I got the next best thing to a Delacroix route. The only wish of mine that wasn't fulfilled was an Aleister route; but I guess that hooking Cardia up with a psychopath old enough to be her (grand)father was a bridge too far, even for Otomate. Well, I can live without it. (End of spoilers.)
All in all, Future Blessings is a bit of a rip-off, even with a 20-bucks price tag. It was not unpleasant by any means, but it's definitely not juicy and solid enough to justify a purchase unless you're a hardcore fan of the series. I strongly feel that Otomate is trying to milk the series as much as possible by withholding important developments and then delivering them in sequels. Guardian of Rebirth is not a self-contained game: if you want a fulfilling conclusion to that game's routes, you need to purchase Future Blessings. Now, do you want a fulfilling conclusion to Future Blessings' brand-new routes? By all means, please purchase Wintertide Miracles, the second Code Realize fan disc! I swear, Otomate is just ruthless. (And I may just cave in in the end and purchase WM indeed, if only because I'm a sucker for wintery settings.) Having said that, I'll see you soon with my route report, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!
— which is probably the reason I always end up as her (barely-legal-and-maybe-not-even) mate when I play with the male avatar. Either the writers thought that male players would be fine with just a pretty face to woo, or the romance options for the male avatar were added as an afterthought; at any rate, this lack of depth on the belle side is really frustrating.
And third, fourth and fifth, for that matter. It should surprise absolutely no one that I love that game to pieces. I mean, we're talking about a first-person dungeon crawler here; so it's absolutely not surprising that I spent six hours straight playing the demo and that I let out a genuine cry of dismay when the message notifying me that said demo was over popped up on my Switch's screen.
Those six hours were spent exploring and roaming a mere three floors, and not entirely at that; this makes me think that LoR has the potential to be a FPDC of massive proportions. Also, the fact that I didn't feel a shred of boredom during those six hours spent on a mere three floors makes me think that LoR has the potential to be a very engrossing FPDC indeed. In fact, I don't just think that: I know it. No other FPDC I've played boasts such a perfect balance between exploration, team building, farming and combat, making for an incredibly addictive gameplay experience.
— Exploration: Oh, the thrill! Complex yet stimulating dungeon layouts, large floors, puzzles, and last but not least, hidden areas up the wazoo: LoR offers everything a FPDC aficionado could wish for. Oh, and you can break walls. Break. Walls. I cannot find words to explain how exhilarating it is to carve yourself a shortcut or to uncover brand-new areas by punching your way through walls.
— Team building: Say goodbye to the solo run temptation! LoR is one of those games that gives the same amount of XP to all party members regardless of their numbers, which means that I can indulge in team building without a second though. And since there's no equipment galore and all pieces of gear can be equipped by all classes (albeit weapon efficiency varies greatly between classes), I don't have to bother with nightmarish levels of micromanagement. Sure, the game makes things a bit more complicated than necessary by slapping all sorts of fancy concepts on top of its (very traditional) gameplay mechanics, like many recent FPDCs; but it doesn't take long to make sense of LoR's terminology, especially when you have a couple of FPDCs under your belt.
— Farming: I just revised my opinion on farming: I don't dislike it overall, I dislike it only when it's poorly handled. Which is so not the case in LoR. Heck, this game elevates farming to an art — and to an ungodly obsession. On top of the obligatory monster drops, you can gather mana, which is used as a currency of sorts and serves various interesting purposes (oh, how I love sucking mana from the dungeon's dirty walls); even better, you can get your greedy hands on all sorts of lovely loot, from neat pieces of gear to rare items. Oh, and the game resets the mana and loot points every time you exit the dungeon and kindly shows you where all those treasures are lying. To say that I could hardly resist the lure of said treasures when I roamed is very much an understatement, and impromtu farming sessions made a good chunk of those six hours I spent playing LoR's demo.
— Combat: It's your standard turn-based fare, with a couple of clever twists — the main and best one being that encounters are not random. You can see enemies on the screen, just like FOES in Etrian Odyssey; and if you maneuver well, you can approach them from the back or the side and take them by surprise, which makes fights much faster and smoother. This also means that you're free to make a beeline for foes or to run away from them, depending on your goals of the moment. Another neat twist is that the game kindly lets you know when your attacks and weapons are effective or ineffective against a foe, just like any good old Pokemon game. Also, battles flow fast and are usually over in a couple of turns, which only makes you greedier for the next battle.
What else? The soundtrack is lush, the art is gorgeous, the story is deliciously wacky, and main character Dronya is such a complete b*tch that it become hilarious. I need that game in my life, and I need copious amounts of it. Here's my plan laid thereupon for you, dear fellow gamers: first, I'm going to purchase the Vita version of LoR for collecting purposes, before it becomes prohibitely rare and expensive; then, I'll purchase the Switch version, play it to death and sell it once I'm done, after which I'll turn to the Vita version when I want to replay the game. Such a perfectly designed plan, which will allow me to play LoR right now and not struggle with japanese to do so!
This post marks the end of my Demo Runs. The whole endeavour was not as fructuous as I had hoped; but one final purchase out of seven demos is better than nothing, I guess. Still, it was entertaining: I could be fully honest with my feelings about those demos and drop them in a flash if they failed to please, knowing that I had gotten them for free. No sunk cost fallacy here, baby! I think I'll try my hands at demos more often from now on, especially given how expensive Switch games are. I hope you enjoyed those Demo Runs as much as me, dear fellow gamers; as usual, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!
Valkyria Chronicles 4 opens with a picture of a tank in a flower field; and that picture pretty much sums up my experience with the demo. This game is such a potpourri of contradictory features and elements that it could totally have been subtitled 'Cognitive Dissonance'.
|How the heck did you come up here without crushing flowers, buddy?|
First, you have the fighting system, which I would describe as 'realistic, yet not quite'. VC4 sure looks like a wannabe FPS at first sight, with its various weapon types, its aiming feature and its naturalistic-looking battlefields; yet weirdly enough, units get tired after a mere couple of steps and everybody can eat several bullets before kicking the bucket, pretty much like in any other grid-based SRPG under the sun. This mishmash of FPS and SRPG would be tolerable, if not for the fact that it makes battles painfully drawn-out and tedious. So my units cannot take more than ten bloody steps at a time, yet they have to choose the right weapon for each enemy and aim precisely? Give me a break — and automatic aiming, game. You cannot be realistic just when you fancy it.
|Cannot walk more than 50 m, but has faux cat ears and camel toe. Nice sense of priority, Sega.|
Then you have the atmosphere, which is just way too mellow and easygoing for a warzone. It's all lovely villages surrounded with pristine green pastures: is there even a war going on there? Also, the game mixes light-hearted bantering and anime tropes with a supposedly serious story about a bloody war covering a whole continent; maybe that's just me, but I cannot help but think that there's a teeny-weeny tone issue in that picture. I'm also growing too old to swallow the fact that only youths are fighting in that supposedly all-encompassing war. Oh, and the journal gimmick is just ridiculous. Who has the time to keep a neat, tidy little journal when toiling on a warzone?
Last but not least, the art is painfully out of touch. For once, VR4 boasts way too many pastel colours and not nearly enough red and browns for a game that's all about war. (I never though I would call for browns in a game ever, but there you have it.) For another, there's a serious issue with character design, and especially with outfits. Are leggings and short skirts really the most practical options for female soldiers, in a game that wants to play it realistic to a certain extent? And what's with all the boob, butt and crotch shots? I really cannot take meetings about the next operation seriously at all when you're zooming on the commanding officer's bosom, game.
|On the left half: soldiers. On the right half: fan service.|
In a nutshell, there's one thing I want to say to that game, and by extension to Sega: you cannot have your cake and eat it too, buddy. You need to choose: either you go for a full anime setting, and then you get off my case with annoyances such as manual aiming and messy realistic-looking battlefields; or you go for a gritty, FPS-ish setting with the colours and the seriousness to match — and then I won't touch your game with a ten foot pole, but that's another matter. As it is, I won't come closer to VC4 anyway. I wanted to love that game, I really did; but it's just too confusing and disconcerting for poor little me. And too slow and cutscene-laden too, which certainly doesn't help matters. But now comes my ultimate demo, dear fellow gamers; and as you'll see very soon, I pretty much saved the best for last. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!
I'm not gonna go all dramatic and cry that Square Enix have lost their touch, that their glory days are long gone and that they couldn't produce a good RPG these days even if they had the manual. Instead, I'm simply gonna say this: playing Lost Sphear fills me with a dread that I can hardly put into words. I usually enjoy playing even the most mediocre of RPGs, simply by sheer virtue of them being, well, RPGs; but not so with Lost Sphear. This is simply the dreariest, most depressing and disheartening RPG experience I've had in a long time — maybe ever. Here's a list of the things that made me give up on Lost Spear's demo before it was even over and oust the game from my To-Get-My-Paws-On List for all eternity:
— The graphics are disgusting. I'm usually not too finnicky when it comes to that particular aspect of video games; but the combination of Lost Spear's cheap, plasticky phone(y) game art style and pukish, shitty colours really offends my retinas. (Don't trust the pictures here: the game looks much worse when you're actually playing it.) On top of that, the sprites are ridiculously tiny, especially on the word map. I have the sharpest eyesight and never had any problem with sprite size in any game, ever; and yet I have to squint to keep track of Lost Sphear's characters.
— The fighting system is horrendous. In a nutshell, it's Hyperdimension Neptunia's fighting system done wrong. HN reaped all the good points of all three main RPG fighting systems while neatly ousting their bad points; Lost Sphear, on the other end, racks up all the bad points of said three fighting systems and lets none of their good points in. Lost Sphear's (sorry excuse for a) battle system has the tension of real-time combat (you lose your turn if you don't spring into action quick enough), the slowness of turn-based combat (you still have to wait for your turn) and the fastidiousness of tactical combat (you have to position your character properly to land an attack). I swear, it's like Squeenix went out of their way to create the most cumbersome and tedious fighting system ever; this is not an homage to retro RPG by any stretch of the imagination, no matter what Lost Sphear's promotional blurb claims. I kid you not: this is the first time ever I found myself actively avoiding battles in an RPG after a mere ten minutes of play.
— The level design is boring. Empty space is strong with this one, ooh yes indeed. Big empty corridors that could accommodate regiments of sprites, vast stretches of (waste)land filled with absolutely nothing: I feel like I'm playing an early 3D Playstation game here, not a retro-heavy JRPG crafted by the two former companies that single-handedly built up the genre.
— Last but not least, the pet peeves. The demo starts in medias res, with people throwing orders at me and my whole party lounging around lv.20; this gives me the unpleasant impression that I'm playing someone else's save file — not to mention that this also probably means that you cannot import save data from the demo to the full game. Also, I hate the whole mecha gimmick. And I also hate all those dumb, outdated little hindrances such as the long animation for climbing ladders and the fact that you cannot climb said ladders with the mecha suit.
In a nutshell, I'm not buying Lost Sphear in a million years. Playing that demo was a lifeless, tedious and pitiful experience, and I honestly cannot fathom how Square Enix could go from the sheer retro brilliance of Bravely Default to the utter dullness of Lost Sphear. That's two Switch demos down, and I can only hope that the last two will prove better. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!
That game's name reminds me of my blogging beginnings. Did you know, dear fellow gamers, that I initially wanted to name my little blog 'One More Level'? As in: "heck, let's just grind a liiiittle more and gain one more level before I turn off the game and go to bed". Alas, the name was taken; I had to rack my brains to find a name with a similar meaning, and the rest is history.
That anecdote will be the meatiest thing in that post, I'm afraid; because the truth is that I have painfully little to say about OMD itself. It's a Doom ripoff with a fantasy setting, and it has the worst control scheme I've seen this side of... Well, nothing, actually. You move with the left analog stick, orient the camera with the right analog stick, and fire your two weapons with... the L and R buttons. Because the A and B buttons are so over, you know. This is the most unintuitive, uncomfortable, cramp-inducing control scheme I've ever had the misfortune of enduring on a handheld, and it's an absolute deal-breaker as far as I'm concerned. Compared to those controls from hell, the fact that the game is ridiculously hard and that hitboxes are as wobbly as jelly pudding is hardly worth mentioning. But I'm doing it anyway, just out of spite.
Next please! OMD was my first Switch demo; and needless to say, I hope that my three other Switch demos will raise the bar and be more enjoyable. See you soon for more demo tidings, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!