Nintendo 3ds: It's complicated

My relationships with my gaming systems have been straightforward, unfussy and unashamedly positive for the most part. I wholeheartedly adored The Gameboy, the Game Gear and the Megadrive until I had to let them go because of a lack of games to purchase. I fell in love with the Nintendo DS at first play and still adore it to this day. I purchased the PSP without expecting too much out of it and ended up being pleasantly surprised and loving the system in earnest. The Vita went from being an afterthought purchase to being one of my favourite systems of all times, and my love for it keeps growing by the game.

The only exception to that list of gaming bliss is the Nintendo 3ds, which has the dubious honour of being the only system ever that I started loving before growing to somehow dislike it. I wouldn't step as far as to claim that I hate the 3ds, but thinking of that system definitely generates mixed feelings in me and leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I was well inclined towards it at first, due to the DS legacy and to the Gameboy one to a lesser extent, and my first experiences with it were pleasant enough to make me love it. I thought this was the beginning of yet another long and fruitious gaming love story; however, that dreamy scenario was not meant to be. Instead of getting stronger over time, my initial love for the 3ds slowly but surely crumbled as I had to endure one hurdle after the other at the hands of Nintendo. Their questionable policies and decisions regarding the 3ds are partly to blame for my disaffection with the system, along with other factors that I will now expose in all their unholy glory. Without further ado, here come the lovekillers:

The cursed region lock: This is the original sin and the major flaw of the 3ds, and it's simply impossible to avoid mentioning it. Nintendo's decision to implement region lock on one of its handhelds for the first time in its history was both an incredibly retrograde move and a giant diss to collectors all around the globe. It's safe to say that the region lock significantly reduced my emotional investment in the 3ds: it's a teeny-weeny bit hard to grow attached to a system when you need three different versions of it to play all the games released worldwide. And of course, it should surprise no one that the region lock also reduced my financial investment in the 3ds. If not for this aggravating flaw, I would certainly have imported Japanese special editions of the 3ds as well as Japanese games by now; yet I didn't, and I most certainly never will. Having to purchase a North-American 3ds to play the handful of games that didn't make it to Europe was already galling enough, and there's no way I will waste money to buy a third iteration of that collector-unfriendly system.

Model and iteration galore: Talking about iterations of the 3ds, there are definitely too many of them. 3ds, 3ds XL, 2ds, New 3ds, New 3ds XL: that's five iterations so far, and that's a couple too many. Granted, the DS had four iterations; but the original DS was short-lived and the DSi XL came very late in the console's lifetime, so it never felt like we were drowning under DS models. The five iterations of the 3ds, on the other hand, were released in rapid succession and are all currently cohabitating in shops, which complicates matters when it comes to electing one. To add to the confusion, Nintendo is continuously swarming the market with countless special editions of every single iteration. Multiply this by the three regions, and you get a collector's nightmare. This overabundance of 3ds models jumps way beyond the stimulating mark and lands right into the "too much of a good thing" and "mental overload" territory.

Gimmickry overload: We're talking first and foremost about the ill-fated 3D, which was supposed to be the system's highest selling point—before turning into a total fiasco. Nintendo's obsession with 3D, which can be traced all the way back to the '90S, could have been deemed visionary if not for the debacle of the whole 3D gimmick. That fad went out of fashion nearly as soon as it was launched, and the 3ds suffered greatly from that fall from grace. Few developers nowadays even bother implementing 3D in their 3ds games, and those that do often blotch it horribly. Add to this the fact that the 3D is not tolerated by everyone, and you get a crappy gimmick that Nintendo should have ditched for good twenty years ago. Heck, wasn't the debacle of the Virtual Boy an ominous enough sign that going 3D was not a good gaming gimmick? But wait, we are not done yet with the gimmickry overload. Enter the New 3ds cover plates, a gimmick as costly as it is pointless and a shameless attack on Nintendo fans' wallets. Sure, no one actually forces me to buy these cover plates; but they cheapen the overall image of the system, and I'd prefer to see Nintendo put their energy into producing new games rather than useless pieces of plastic. It's also worth noting that many so-called 'special editions' of the New 3ds are nothing more than regular New 3ds with cover plates slapped on them, which is just the cheapest trick ever. As a collector, I'm not buying this—literally.

The missing games: Let's face it, the 3ds library sorely lacks RPGs. Even the most die-hard fans of the system can hardly deny the fact that the 3ds cannot hold a candle to the DS in that regard and that its RPG library only amounts to a fraction of the DS one. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Upon closer inspection, it turns out that the 3ds lack games in general. It lacks new exciting franchises and it lacks new exciting entries in old franchises. It lacks fresh games that are not hommages (read "rip-off"), remakes or ports of games from older generations. Take the Pokemon series: only two brand-new instalments in four years, along two remakes. The Zelda series: only two brand-new instalments that were conceived as "spiritual successors" to older entries, accompanied by two ports. Etrian Odyssey: only one new entry—yet two remakes. Shin Megami Tensei: one new entry vs. three remakes/ports. Rune Factory and Kingdom Hearts: one lone entry each. The list goes on and on, and there is worse: series and subseries that didn't get a single new instalment on the 3ds. Like Sonic Rush, Golden Sun, Advance Wars, Suikoden, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Luminous Arc and probably more that I cannot remember right now. Fresh and exciting new franchises bristling with ideas are also sorely missed, and the few 3ds games that could have been franchise founders fared badly: unless I'm sorely mistaken, Hometown Story, Sonic Boom and Lord of Magna won't be the foundation stones of solid and successful series. To make matters worse, the overall release pace of 3ds games is tepid, as though developing games for the system were a monumental task requiring years of work. Well, allow me to doubt that.

Lack of visual flair: For some unfathomable reason, developers seem to have collectively decided to stick to a single visual style for their 3ds games. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about: said style involves faux-3D sprites and environments, garish colours, kawaisa by the truckload and overall visual cluttering. So many games sport that style—from Pokemon to Moco Moco Friends to Fantasy Life and many, many more—that it would be faster to point out the precious few games that do not sport it, such as Rune Factory 4 or Senran Kagura Burst. This visual uniformity is more than a trifle boring, and I wish developers could take a page from the DS' book—which offers every type of stylization under the gaming sun, from 16bit-ish pixel galore to decent attempts at photorealism—and make their games more visually varied. If the DS could pull it off, then certainly the more powerful 3ds can do it too.

All these flaws have tainted my relationship with the 3ds, possibly forever. Although I will keep pinning for new exciting RPGs and will more or less support the 3ds until the end of its tenure, that system will go down in my personal gaming history as a mixed bag of a console that frustrated and delighted me in equal measure. Yet since I'm an eternal optimist, I keep hoping that some great games will be released by the end of the 3ds' life. A batch of titles with cult-classic potential could certainly go a long way towards rekindling my love for the system, and the release schedule for 2016 looks promising enough to make me want to spend hours glued to my 3ds again. Let's wait and hope! I'd be curious to know if some of you experienced a similar dissatisfaction with the 3ds and curious to know your feelings about that handheld in general, so feel free to let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Dungeon Travelers 2: A potpourri of goodness

35 hours into DT2 and still loving it just as much as when I started it. More so, in fact. My lone Valkyrie has hit the Lv.75 mark and keeps gaining levels at a jolly good speed, and unless I'm sorely mistaken, the end is drawing near. Whether I will hit the Lv.99 mark before the final boss remains to be seen, as well as whether or not the game has some extra postgame dungeons in store.

But we're not there yet, and for the time being, I want to elaborate on all the goodness packed by DT2. This game has tons of excellent features, from the most minute ones to the most playthrough-altering ones, and I'm now going to enumerate the ones that charmed me the most all in a long, exhaustive—and somewhat haphazard—list. Hail now the amazing goodness potpourri of DT2!

  • The dungeon design is deliciously clever and challenging. Of the three first-person dungeon crawlers I've played so far, DT2 sports by far the most interesting and engrossing dungeons. The game uses a batch of tried-and-tested level design tricks such as invisible passageways, oneway walls, warps, pits, dark areas and stairs and combine them in various ways to great effect. Each dungeon is given its specific brand of level design and its exclusive combination of gimmicks, and the roaming and exploration remain constantly fresh and compelling as a result. The Giant Tree of Tver, for instance, hosts no empty spaces at all; so one can look actively for invisible passageways leading to hidden chambers. Another good point is the originality of the dungeons' themes; although the game starts off with a very classic cave-themed dungeon, it later veers away from established formulas by offering dungeons as pleasantly unexpected as a villa, an onsen and a library. 

  • The art style is gorgeous and the character designs are pure eye-candy. Granted, the dungeons themselves look rather bland and generic, but their lack of aesthetic flair is more than compensated by the gorgeous looks of the characters, friends as well as foes. All the party members—including male lead Fried—are handsome, ooze charisma and are dressed to kill to boot, with several costume variations that all look amazing. As for the foes, they are divided into two categories: incredibly cute non-human foes such as fruits and cats and delightfully alluring monsters looking like young women in bloom, and they are all a pleasure to look at and fight. Although a couple of colour palette swaps can be spotted every now and then, the variety of enemy designs is staggering and one can rest assured that they will encounter brand-new foes in every dungeon. Cherry on the cake, the soundtrack is upbeat and pleasant to the ear, with a distinctive '80s vibe that is unusual for the genre yet quite enjoyable. 

  • The game is choke-full with humour. Self-derisive comments, hilarious dialogues, breakings of the fourth wall, tutorials that poke fun at every cliché under the RPG sun and funnily awkward situations, DT2 has them all in spades and is undoubtedly one of the most witty and humourous games I've played in a long time. I certainly didn't expect that and was more than pleasantly surprised, finding myself giggling and grinning on a regular basis as I played. Heck, even enemies are smiling as though they're having all the fun in the world! 

  • There are excellent incentives to grind senselessly. Not only do defeated foes drop tons of very decent pieces of gears and other useful items, but they can also be transformed into so-called "Seal Books". These books can then be sold for good money, equipped to grant passive stat bonuses and used to enhance equipment, making DT2 the kind of game in which one does not ever run away from random battles. 

  • The class system is incredibly deep and fulfilling. It's basically a copy-paste of Seiken Densetsu 3's branching class system, minus the stone-praying and item-collecting parts, and it allows for an amazing amount of fine-tuning and experimentation with the party. Each class has its own unique abilities and its own combination of strengths and weaknesses—completed with an exclusive outfit that remains judiciously hidden until said class is chosen. Although I'm deeply enjoying my solo run, I nearly regret not having played with a full party just for the pleasure of discovering more classes. Cherry on the cake, the abilities granted by a class are saved when moving on to the next class in line, meaning that a party member will de facto master three classes at once after hitting the second class change mark at Lv.30. Talk about cumulative benefits!

  • DT2 offers a lot of excellent and challenging side dishes to take an occasional break from the main quest. Exclusive bonus dungeons can be unlocked and the main dungeons feature restricted areas that can be accessed later in the game. Exploring new dungeons and revisiting old ones is already fulfilling enough in its own right, and the exercise is made even more enthralling by the presence of ludicrously strong bonus bosses that will very likely obliterate the party in a couple of turns when faced for the first time. Of course, this is bound to change as time goes and XP accumulates, and being finally able to pummel to death a bonus boss that was impassable a couple of hours before is undoubtedly one of the finest satisfactions offered by DT2. It makes you feel that you're progressing in a very palpable way that stats and levels alone could definitely not evince. 

    • The side quests come with yummy benefits. Sure, they seem utterly generic and boring at first sight, since they consist exclusively of farming quests that require to kill x enemies or to gather y items; however, the pay-off for completing these quests amply justify tackling them despite their bland nature. Some of these quests grant keys to access locked parts of main dungeons as well as exclusive rare items, and clearing a certain number of quests will unlock new extra dungeons as well as increase the capacity of the inventory. Knowing that the quests always involve enemies or items that are available in the currently explored dungeon or in the next one in line, there are definitely no reasons to bypass this insipid yet painless way to reap benefits. 

    • Last but not least, DT2 sports plenty of little features that make the gameplay more enjoyable. Customizable speed for roaming and fighting, itinerant shops in dungeons, instant save feature, free resting, forging system with variable results that can be exploited to one's advantage, good modern auto-drawing maps and plenty more. 

    I could keep raving forever about the excellency of DT2, but all good things must come to an end, including this post. I'm far from being done with writing about that game though, and you can expect more posts about it very soon. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


    Comme ci comme ca: 2015's most disappointing games

    I was initially planning to write a top 5 of my favourite games for 2015, but I quickly realized that it wouldn't work out. 2015 has been an amazing gaming year for me, each game being as excellent as the one that preceeded it, and picking up only five entries was purely and simply impossible. On the other hand, I've played a couple of tepid games that somehow soiled my perfect gaming resume for the year, and I thought that it would be more interesting to mention them—all the more so as I didn't cover them all here. Assume thus that I adored every single game I played this year, bar these ones!

    Steins;Gate (Vita): I've written more than enough about my experience with that game, so I won't elaborate excessively. Suffice it to say that as far as I'm concerned, this acclaimed visual novel didn't live up to its potential and ditched a perfectly good story to indulge in mostly nonsensical romantic meanderings.

    Xenoblade Chronicles 3D (3ds): Once again, I won't babble inordinately about this one since I already wrote a post about it. The little I've played was dull, tedious and utterly forgettable. Definitely a waste of good money.

     —Kirby Triple Deluxe (3ds): I played it this summer, but the review was unfortunately lost in my schedule issues of August. Although that game was incredibly pleasant to play, offering excellent gimmicks and a lot of giddy fun, it was also painfully shallow and forgettable. I like to compare it to cotton candy: fluffy, sugary and heart-warming, yet leaving no taste on the palate and forgotten as soon as swallowed. I was also not too fond of the recycling of gameplay elements, which seems to have become Nintendo's trademark of late: some gimmicks and bosses in Kirby Triple Deluxe were already present in 1992's Kirby's Dream Land for the Gameboy—which, en passant, is the only other entry of the series I've played. Frankly, I expected more evolution and novelty from 23 years of Kirby games; but maybe I'm just being too exigeant. Oh, well.

    Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3ds): My short-lived playthrough of this game actually started auspiciously. I was totally fond of the colourful aesthetics and gorgeous vistas and I lapped up the amazing physics so much that I went out of my way to kill extra monsters during the tutorial missions; and, last but not least, I was totally delighted by the presence of all these adorable anthropomorphic cats. Unfortunately, all crumbled down as I cleared the tutorial missions and was thrown into the game per se. The overwhelming number of weapons to choose from paralysed me, and my first weapon tutorial was such a clunky, unsatisfying mess that I gave up on the spot and beat a hasty retreat. Maybe I'll try my hand at it later, if I manage to steel myself enough to stomach the overabundance of equipment.

    Fantasy Life (3ds): On paper, this game had everything to delight me: colourful and stylized art style, gentle and welcoming atmosphere and quests by the truckload. However, once I started playing it, I found it curiously vapid and empty. It was not horrible by any means, just uneventful and not exactly compelling. I gave up after a couple of hours because I simply didn't care anymore. In my opinion, this game lacks a backbone, a driving force that could motivate players to play. It's nearly more of a "concept" game, an attempt at creating the ultimate blend of RPG and life sim; however, the result feels artificial, contrived and ultimately shallow. I'll give it another try later, though; maybe I was simply not in the right mood when I played it.

    That's four 3ds games, and let's be honest: they played their part in my recent disaffection with the handheld. They are not the only culprits, of course; but four so-so games for one single system in one year weigh heavily, especially when played in rapid succession. I'm pretty confident that I will soon get some quality material to help me recover from this 3ds trauma, though: early 2016 is packed with mouth-watering 3ds releases—which will soon be featured in my next list of coveted games. Overall, 2015 was a stellar gaming year, and I fervently hope that 2016 will be just as excellent. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


    PSN: A rant (a.k.a. those quantic digital games that are yours, yet not yours)

    I've just made the most unpleasant discovery regarding games downloaded through the Playstation Store, a discovery that made me hiss and spit like an angry cat. Having to fork out a ludicrous amount of money to obtain proprietary Vita memory cards was not enough, oh no; dear ol' Sony had to design extra limitations to prevent us from using the content that we legally bought.

    Here's the situation: I am a collector of both games and gaming systems. As a result, I currently own five Vitas in various colours, with the plan of using some of them as backups when my oldest Vitas start dying on me. I always assumed that all the games I downloaded from the Playstation Store could be played at will on any of my precious Vitas; but lately, as I learnt that only two Vitas could be registered on the PSN, a sliver of doubt regarding that assumption wormed its way into my mind. Before I knew it, said sliver of doubt had expanded to massive proportions, to the point where I felt obliged to run a test in order to dispel or confirm my suspicions. I took one of my brand-new Vitas out of its box, stuck a memory card loaded with games into it and booted the system. A couple of minutes later, my horrendous suspicions were confirmed: I cannot access the content of the memory card at all unless the hosting Vita is registered in the PSN.

    I'm absolutely livid, and royally pissed off. This basically means that I cannot play the games I bought on the systems I bought on my own terms and have instead to endure Sony's arbirtrary limitations. Sure, I can register and unregister Vitas at will on the PSN, but why do I have to do that at all? Why can't I register as many Vita as I want on the PSN? And most importantly, why do the memory cards need to be used with a system tied to a PSN account in the first place? I bought these games, damnit, and I should be allowed to play them on any system I want once they are safely tucked away on a memory card.

    This point matters to me as a collector, because one of the main reasons why I collect is perennity. I collect games and systems so that I can replay them to my heart's content as time goes on, and these hidden PSN rules put this plan in jeopardy. It's pretty safe to assume that the PSN won't be around forever, and I'm asking: what will happen to my downloaded games when the PSN is taken down? Will they become totally unplayable? Maybe Sony will come with a fix to allow PSN users to keep on playing the games they bought, but maybe they won't. This means that I paid for products that may one day become unusable, and this is NOT what I signed for. Nintendo got a lot of criticism for their unpractical policy of forcing Nintendo Eshop users to have their account tied to a single system, but these policies of Sony are just as bad. They are actually even worse, because Sony doesn't deliver clear information on the matter and let people make assumptions that are ultimately untrue—such as the perfectly reasonable assumption that purchased digital games are yours to use as you want on any system you want, now and forever.

    I was already not in favour of digital games, and this discovery makes me dislike them even more. From that point on, I will:
    a) Ponder very carefully every digital purchase and proceed only if the concerned game is not available physically at all and if there is a discount on it.
    b) Get my act together and step up my game by diving back full force into my long-forsaken Japanese studies. This endeavour is long overdue, and now I have more incentive than ever to undertake it. Once I know enough Japanese, I can purchase the Japanese physical editions of all these games that are released only digitally in the West and stop worrying about the perennity of my games.

    Although I'm furious about this whole mess, I'm also glad that I made this discovery. Being aware of these hidden limitations regarding digital games will spare me some uninformed purchases and help me save some money in the long run, and hopefully it will help other gamers do the same. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


    Dungeon Travelers 2: The importance of running solo

    Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is the definite discovery of a new favourite RPG subgenre. I started Dungeon Travelers 2 a couple of days ago and I've been as intensely glued to it as I've been glued to Class of Heroes and to Demon Gaze not so long ago. At that point, it's safe to assume that I do love first-person dungeon crawlers indeed, and quite passionately at that.

    I've been tinkering quite a lot with the game, starting it with a duo run starring Alisia and Melvy. The two were introduced together and I had to clear a dungeon floor with both of them before I was granted the option to alter the composition of my party; as a result, I grew attached to them both and simply couldn't choose between these two lovely ladies when I got the opportunity to do so. Not running solo when it is actually possible is a most unusual move for me, and this could have been my first ever duo run in a dungeon crawler if not for one single element: the chanting time, i.e. the time needed to cast spells. The cursed, horrendous chanting time, which made fighting with Melvy an absolute chore instead of the blast it should have been. Not only does the chanting time delay the unleashing of Melvy's spells, sometimes by a full turn, but any hit endured by Melvy while chanting can cancel the spell altogether. I found this gameplay mechanic extremely awkward and unfilfilling, to the point where the idea of putting up with it any longer simply became unbearable. That's when I decided to wipe the slate clean and to restart from scratch, this time following my good old solo ways.

    Since I wanted Melvy out of the picture, my DT2 solo run became automatically synonymous with an Alisia solo run. Any other character would have joined the fray way too late to stockpile the necessary XP for a smooth solo run, and I was not in the mood to attempt a duo run with any of them, so Alisia alone it was. This solo run became a complete dream run as soon as it started: since DT2 is the kind of game in which the amount of XP is equally divided between party members, I was gaining levels literally twice as fast with Alisia alone than with Melvy and Alisia. It took me a mere five hours to reach Lv. 15 and the first class change: presented with a choice between evolving into a Berseker and a Paladin, I wisely chose the latter. My reasoning was that as a solo act, I needed to become my own private tank and to build up defense abilities good enough to be able to sustain many blows in battle, and the Paladin seemed a better choice to achieve that goal than the Berserker, who was very likely all about attack to the detriment of defense. This choice proved fruitful and I kept rampaging through dungeons, taking one boss after the other without breaking a sweat.

    After another five hours, I reached Lv. 30 and the second class change; that's when, unbeknownst to me, I made a fatal mistake by choosing the Samurai instead of the Valkyrie. I was lured into the Samurai way by the prospect of being able to use Katana attacks that could strike a whole row of enemies—a technic that seemed tailor-made for a solo run. Alas, this seemingly promising class change didn't produce the expected goodness and turned out to be quite underwhelming instead. For one thing, Katanas are quite rare and often weaker than your average sword, so the attacks targeting whole rows of foes didn't exactly deal an staggering amount of damage. For another, Samurais cannot use Lances and Axes, which are the strongest weapons in the game, and have to content themselves with weaker Swords and even weaker Katanas. Last but not least, the Samurai's defense abilities are simply not solid enough to guarantee a smooth solo run. I suddenly found myself struggling quite a lot during random battles, and gaining levels as fast as ever didn't alleviate my struggling.

    After some unsatisfying trudging and plodding, I took the ominous decision to reset my level to 30 and to switch to the Valkyrie class. That meant giving up a handful of levels—I had reached Lv.37 at that point—and putting up with a healthy dose of level-grinding in order to regain my edge over foes, but I was more than ready to make that sacrifice for the sake of a better gameplay experience. And a better gameplay experience was most likely to be around the corner, since the Valkyrie had a)a better defense than the Samurai, b)the ability to use Swords, Lances and Axes, and c)powerful Lance attacks that could target several enemies at once. And thus I proceeded with that run-altering class change, with an ever-so-slight touch of trepidation and anticipation.

    To my utter delight, my first steps as a Valkyrie showed a change for the better. Despite losing seven levels in the process, I immediately noticed that random battles were easier and smoother, and they became all the more so as I level-grinded dutifully and regained my lost levels before marching on. Since then, my run has regained its dreamy quality: I'm progressing unhindered, taking down minions and bosses along the way and gaining levels at the speed of light, and I'm enjoying every minute of it.

    When it comes to assessing the solo run-friendliness of DT2, I can safely assert that this game does indeed accommodate a solo run quite leniently... Providing that you make the right choices, that is. The only viable way to progress smoothly as a lone ranger in DT2 is to choose Alisia as your one and only and to make her evolve first into a Paladin, then into a Valkyrie; deviate a trifle from that path, and your sleek solo run will turn into a trudge before you can say "oops, wrong class!" Given the sometimes insane difficulty of the game, I suspect that wrong choices in a solo endeavour may even leave one completely stranded and forced to reset levels like I did, or even to restart from scratch.

    And talking about the difficulty of the game, this is a subject I will cover in my next post about DT2, along with other points not directly related to the solo side of my run. I am far from being done with that wonderful game, both in playing and in writing! Until my next post, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


    Pokemon Mystery Dungeon-Explorers of Sky: Final thoughts

    After roughly 19 hours of play, I am finally done with Explorers of Sky. I didn't fully explore the vast postgame territory as I initially planned, quitting instead in the early stages of Zero Isle. Although my postgame endeavours had started well with a quick and nice exploration of Mystifying Forest, things got rougher as I started progressing through the North part of Zero Isle. Traps were overabundant, ennemies were powerful and, cherry on top of the tediousness cake, I was not gaining levels anymore. After 15 floors, I also started suspecting that Zero Isle would be a ridiculously huge dungeon; a quick research on the internet confirmed that hunch, which turned out to be the proverbial last straw that prompted me to stop playing. I don't want my warm feelings about that game to be spoiled by a frustrating trudge through punishing dungeons, so I'll wisely abstain from clearing the rest of the postgame content altogether.

    I'll abstain all the more so as I already had my share of fun while clearing the main game. I certainly got much more enjoyment out of Explorers of Sky than I had bargained for: I initially only wanted to get over my grudge and give another chance to the DS instalments of the series, yet I ended up loving Explorers of Sky even more than Gates to Infinity. Here's a list of all the features that made this game so pleasant to me:

    —The story was excellent and told in a very convincing way. From the mundane beginnings to the unexpected plot twist, followed by the sudden discovery of higher stakes and crowned by a sweet emotional ending, the pacing was pitch-perfect. Talking about the emotional ending, I shed a tear or two while witnessing it, and I'd wager that I'm not the only one. Cutscenes were a precious few and judiciously dispatched while avoiding dialogue overdose, making for a pleasantly compact and streamlined storytelling that never treaded on the gameplay's territory.

     —The crawling was pure pleasure thanks to a winning combination of good dungeon design, lovely graphics and stellar music. Although the dungeon design of Explorers of Sky cannot be described as truly clever or excellent because of its randomized nature, it was still quite palatable: dungeons sported a reasonable size, with an average floor size that gave room for exploration without being overwhelming and a decent number of floors, and many dungeon layouts displayed patterns that could be used to streamline the crawling. The graphics were definitely finer than in Blue Rescue Team, with a abundance of exquisite details that made every dungeon unique. Last but not least, the crawling was crowned by a stellar soundtrack comprised of dozens of beautiful and complex themes that caressed the ear without ever becoming irritating.

    —Spinda's Juice Bar, a.k.a. Drinking with benefits. This was the single most awesome feature of Explorers of Sky, as it offered the possibility to raise stats without level-grinding. Just give Spinda all the gummies you put your paws on, and voilà! IQ increase for you, as well an extra point of Attack, Defense, Sp. Attack or Sp. Defense for each Gummi drink polished off. Even better, maps of extra dungeons can be found occasionally at the bottom of your empty glass; that's a lame explaination allright, but the outcome is certainly fantastic. I found two such maps, namely of dungeons called Serenity River and Lush Prairie; I obviously explored them, and was rewarded by a couple of boxes full of items on the last floor. All this awesomeness made me completely addicted to Spinda's Juice Bar, and it was not long before I found myself frenetically collecting Gummies in dungeons and buying all the ones available in Kecleon shop before drinking them all at Spinda's—rinse and repeat. Thanks to that juice abuse, I became massively overleveled and didn't encounter any difficulty during the boss fights—including the last one, which I wrapped up in a couple of turns. Juices are a Pokemon's best friend!

    —The overall atmosphere was really lovely and soothing. I love mellow games that are welcoming to the player and make them feel at home, and Explorers of Sky was exactly that. This kind of sweet atmosphere was what I initially expected to find in the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series and failed to feel in Blue Rescue Team, so I'm glad I could feel it in Explorers of Sky. The settings were so enchanting that I even felt a bout of that gaming fernweh I already mentioned in my post about Astonishia Story: I wanted to be there, to explore that world myself instead of gazing at it on my DS screen.

    And since I'm mentioning my DS screen, I can also say that Explorers of Sky reignited my love for the Nintendo DS and reminded me how much I actually fancy that system and its special brand of gaming. DS games have a visual style, a sound, an overall atmosphere that are unique and instantly recognizable and that I absolutely adore. I have somehow deserted my DSi these last months to concentrate on my Vita, but I feel now that it is time to lavish some love on it again. I have literally dozens of DS games to play yet, and I could use some positive Nintendo-related experiences after my recent disappointments with the 3ds. So until my next DS game, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


    Amnesia:Memories: The Joker Route (SPOILERS!)

    Fifth and last route, folks! The Joker Route was my second favourite after the Diamond Route and an interesting conclusion to the overarching storyline of Amnesia:Memories. Orion's initial collision with my character's brain was justified in a rather convincing way, as well as all of Ukyo's seemingly random actions and weird declarations in the four other routes. If not for the uncanny amount of babbling and superfluous rehashing of the other routes' themes (I was vomiting the whole "childhood friends/big brother" drill with Toma and Shin at that point, I swear), the Joker Route could actually have been my favourite route of the whole game. Oh, well.

    My exploration of the Joker Route led me first to its ridiculously numerous bad endings. We're talking about seven bad endings there, people, and I uncovered all of them first thing. Six of them belong to the 'branching path' category and can be smelled from afar; of course, I had to see what they had in store for me, and I jumped into the lion's den with some giddy masochistic satisfaction. Oh, the fun of being killed in a million different ways! I was murdered by Ukyo, kidnapped by Toma, crushed to death, burned alive and so on, in a deliciously gruesome display of bad luck. The seventh bad ending is tied to the Parameters and happens if the Trust and Affection Gauge are not filled enough after the other six bad endings have been successfully dodged. This was the last bad ending I uncovered; and after witnessing that most entertaining collection of grisly outcomes, I started hunting for the better endings in earnest.

    During my first 'bad endings special' run, I had tried my hardest to convey my love to Ukyo and had been very demonstrative to him, forcing my attentions and my presence on him as much as the dialogue choices allowed me to do, only to get stranded in the ultimate seventh bad ending after dodging the other six. I then started a second run in which I tried to be more compliant and to go along with Ukyo's wishes. His main demand throughout the whole route was that I kept my distance from him, and I did exactly that while still being kind to him when we interacted. This behaviour paid off and I was rewarded by the normal ending, leaving me just one ending away from sweet, sweet completion.

    I must insert a disclaimer here; although I unearthed that ultimate good ending all by myself, I have to admit that I didn't manage to pinpoint the exact requirements for uncovering it. My winning strategy involved uncovering all the memories from other worlds involving Ukyo and dodging the memories from the Joker Route involving anybody else while simultaneously trying to max up the Trust and Affection Gauges. My reasoning was that if I managed to avoid all memories of the Joker world until the scripted event that would trigger the memory of my encounter with Ukyo in that world, then Orion would not separate from me and would be able to save the day, leading me straight to the good ending. It turned out that this reasoning was unvalid and that Orion being kicked out of my consciousness was actually a scripted event as well; yet my strategy ultimately paid off and generated the good ending. Since I had reached completion at long last, I didn't play a test run in which I could have checked the validity of my hypothesis regarding the requirements for the good ending, for instance by triggering memories of the Joker world involving other persons than Ukyo. That is why to this day, I don't know if the good ending is tied to the Parameters, to the recovering of the memories of Ukyo from other worlds or to a mix of both. Well, that question will have to linger unanswered until my next playthrough of Amnesia:Memories.

    If there is a next playthrough, that is. Although I will certainly not erase the game now that I've forked out some cold hard cash to purchase it, the inherent lack of replay value of visual novels may prevent me from ever replaying it. That doesn't diminish the game's merits in any way, though: this was an excellent gameplay experience and a really fun ride. I've been pondering whether or not Amnesia: Memories was intended as a deadpan parody of otome games. The game's assiduity when it comes to offering bad endings by the truckload and its zeal to craft entirely unlikeable bachelors—well-intentioned guys treating you like shit or psychos treating you amorously, pick your poison!—certainly comes across as humorous, but that may just be my own penchant for dark humour and satire speaking. At any rate, I want to play more visual novels with an otome flavour, which is why I ordered Norn9: Var Commons and Code:Realize just after clearing Amnesia:Memories. If you know other good visual novels with an otome touch, feel free to fill me in! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


    Amnesia:Memories: The Diamond Route (SPOILERS!)

    Oh what a ride! Let's be blunt: when it comes to all things narrative, the Diamond Route was my favourite of them all. I dreaded playing it at first, yet I needed not. It offered me an amazing piece of storytelling that blended claustrophobia, suspense and emotion in equal parts and ended up being deeply engrossing and moving. This route's exclusive focus on interactions between Toma and my character was enthralling, and a welcome change from all the mundane chit-chat with secondary characters I had to tolerate in all the other routes. Once again, the outcomes of the Diamond Route were tied to my behaviour in an utterly logical way. Although Toma's actions are obviously designed to elicit a modicum—or an abundance—of suspicion and uneasiness, it is up to the player to decide whether they trust him against all odds or not. If the player treats Toma like the creep he seems to be and vent their hatred and contempt towards him, little Toma will go over the edge and start acting like a psychopath in earnest. This will lead straight into the open arms of the "We'll be together forever" ending, which is without a doubt the most gruesome and disturbing ending of the whole game. If the player decides to trust Ukyo upon a chance meeting instead of sticking with Toma, they will be killed once again in the "I'll take you with me" bad ending. On the other hand, should the player decide to give Toma the benefit of the doubt and show a modicum of kindness towards him, they will manage to escape mostly unscathed through the normal ending. Last but not least, if the player decides to trust Toma with their guts and to show some unwavering love and kindness towards him, they will be rewarded with a blooming love story in the good ending. I really liked the grittiness of that outcome: both Toma and the main character are obviously volatile people that have been nurturing a totally unhealthy fusional relationship for years, but they admit that much and decide to live with it. Their story of mutual unrequited love was actually quite touching, all the more so as unlike the other bachelors, Toma bottles up his feelings until the very end. It's pretty obvious from the start that he loves you, yet he won't bring himself to admit it, and that makes his final confession in the good ending all the more precious and moving.

    I lapped up the Diamond Route allright, but that doesn't mean that I deem it perfect. I have a serious gripe with it, and that gripe is related to the existence of an extra Parameter Gauge that is exclusive to that route. This gauge measures a parameter called 'Doubt', a confusing name with an inherent ambiguity that prevented me from uncovering the good ending on my own. When I discovered that gauge, I automatically assumed that it was supposed to measure my suspicions regarding Toma's creepiness and that I had to keep it to a minimum while maxing up the Trust and Affection Gauges if I wanted to unearth the good ending. Unfortunately, it didn't work; and after several failed tries, I capitulated and resorted to following an FAQ. As I was progressing, I checked the Parameters and was utterly shocked to see that the Doubt Gauge steadily filled up along the Trust and Affection Gauges, until all three were nearly full at the end of the run. That's when I realized that my initial assumption had been erroneous and that the Doubt Gauge was actually measuring my suspicions regarding the fact that Toma was in love with me despite faking the opposite. Really, game? How was I supposed to assume that? Sure, I could have guessed it, given that the gauge filled up every time a telltale event revealing Toma's buried feelings for me occurred; but I have to admit that it was a trifle too far-fetched for me. Sure, I could have tried to max up the Doubt Gauge when I saw that keeping it to a minimum didn't yield the good ending; but it didn't dawn on me, so sure was I to be on the right track. This will remain my biggest regret regarding the Diamond Route; to uncover the good ending all by myself at the end of that favourite route of mine would have been the cherry on top of the cake. Oh, well.

    Next and last is my report on the Joker Route, and then I'll be done with Amnesia Memories. Until that final post, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


    Amnesia:Memories: The Clover Route (SPOILERS!)

    Here comes my report about Amnesia:Memories' third route, fellow gamers! Things started off nicely, as my first run of that route landed me the normal ending. I was not going to stop at that, obviously, and started a second run during which I once again closely monitored the Parameter Gauges in order to fill up the Affection and Trust Gauge and keep the Suspicion Gauge to a minimum. This micromanagement paid off beautifully and I uncovered the Good Ending, to my immense satisfaction. It feels intensely rewarding to be able to unearth good endings all by myself without resorting to FAQs, and I commend Amnesia:Memories for offering endings that are not so ridiculously arcane that they cannot be uncovered without help. (I'm looking your way, true ending of Steins;Gate.) After that, I started a third route in which I tried to be odious to Kent for a change. This produced the "Isn't it a beautiful night?" bad ending, in which I was murdered again by Ukyo. It's worth nothing that the Clover Route is the only route that doesn't contain any 'branching path' ending, every ending in this route being generated solely by variations of the parameters. When it came to unlocking the second bad ending and last ending of the route, I suddenly grew bored of tinkering with said parameters and resorted to an FAQ for the first time since I started playing the game, which allowed me to witness the rather chilling outcome of being locked up in a ward at Kent's instigation, probably for life. In terms of parameters, this ending pops up when the Suspicion Gauge is filled up while the Affection and Trust Gauge remain low—in other words, when you're cold to Kent while behaving in a highly suspicious manner. And that, folk, was the gist of my exploration of the Clover Route.

    Although I had some decent fun while clearing it, I was a trifle disappointed by this route. My main gripe is that unlike the Heart and Spade Routes, the Clover Route doesn't offer the merest shred of a clue to help the player figure out which memories they are still missing. These missing memories could be absolutely anything at all for all the player's knowledge, which forbids any kind of speculation and kills the suspense before it can even be born. Things get even worse when said missing memories are finally revealed, because the plot twist they introduce can only be described as weak at best. Learning that Toma had attacked me in the Heart Route and that Ikki was the unwitting victim of some kind of creepy love trafficking in the Spade Route had some interesting shock value, but the sudden revelation that I had been in love with Kent all along and that I was actually referring to him when I told him about my heartbreak came accross as inane and maudlin. The whole route came across as inane and maudlin, if I have to be totally honest: it solely revolved about my totally unfascinating and awkward love story with Kent, conveniently sprinkled with pieces of cheap sentimentalism such as the episode with the dog. My character was also considerably more passive and whingeing than in the other routes and Kent managed to come across as ruder, duller and more annoyingly overbearing than Shin and Ikki combined, which is quite the feat. I started feeling some lassitude after my third run, hence the use of an FAQ to unlock the last bad ending—which I wanted to witness, yet not enough to risk failed runs by searching for it myself.

    That's all for the Clover Route, fellow gamers! I'll see you soon with a post about the Diamond Route. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


    Pokemon Mystery Dungeon-Explorers of Sky: Sweet slow burner

    I don't like harbouring gaming grudges, all the more so if said grudge is against a game belonging to a genre I favour and if that game happens to be a spin-off of one of my favourite series. I wrote off the DS entries of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series after a disappointing experience with Blue Rescue Team, promising myself never to touch them again; but now, one and a half year later, I felt that it was time to give the DS branch of the series another chance and to try my hardest to get over that saddening grudge. I had been toying with the idea for some time and had purchased a copy of Explorers of Sky, thinking that it would be better to start again with a brand-new entry; and lately, a review of that game on The Lucky Critical gave me the boost I needed to start playing it in earnest.

    And so did I. The opening quiz produced Pikachu—to my mild surprise, since I had tried hard to obtain that Pokemon in Blue Rescue Team and failed entirely. I had already played as Pikachu in my run of Gates to Infinity and wanted to try out another 'Mon, so I took the quiz a second time... And landed Pikachu again, to my utter surprise. Well, I guess it was destiny! I thus went with Pikachu and selected Skitty as my partner, because hey, I just cannot resist cats. Especially if they're kittens. I decided from the get-go that this would be a duo run because a) I didn't feel like levelling up other 'Mons and b) The Lucky Critical's review had conveniently revealed that the last dungeon had to be tackled with your partner only, so better get used to it right away! And so, I dove into action with that colourful fury duo.

    After 14 hours of said action, I am literally glued to Explorers of Sky and loving it more by the hour. I certainly didn't expect that in the beginning, given how slow and unimpressive were the early stages of the game. I was not allowed to tackle more than one mission at once, which was annoying as my greatest desire was to Crawl'n'Grind. Each mission was preceded and followed by unskippable cutscenes taking place at the Guild; and although these scenes were kind of cute and helped establish a sense of belonging to the Guild, they became irritating after a while. There was an annoying mini-game that further ruined the already slow pacing, and the story consisted of fending off the attempts at stealing food perpetrated by a team of cartoonish ruffians. All that was rather vapid, and although the game was much more pleasant than Blue Rescue Team, I was not exactly glued to it. I would play only once in a while, clearing a mission or two before closing my DS and diving back into Demon Gaze.

    Fortunately, this lukewarm gameplay experience was not meant to last. After a couple of hours, the story suddenly took a most interesting turn thanks to some unexpected developments, gaining a much broader scope in the process; and to my utter delight, the dungeon crawling followed suit. My crawling horizons were suddenly expanded to massive proportions, as I could tackle as many missions and dungeons as I wanted and Crawl'n'Grind to my heart's content. And Crawl'n'Grind I did, clearing all the Dojo's dungeons and tons of missions. Oh, the delight! Once I was sated, I dove back into the story, without forgetting to take a break every now and then to grind and farm useful items. After several hours of that regimen, I'm totally and desperately hooked on Explorers of Sky: although I'm nearly at the Final Boss' door, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of the game. I want to keep gorging on crawling and grinding until I get my fill of it, and something tells me that these urges will not be sated after beating the final boss. Which is for the best, given that the game goes on after that. More crawling, yes please!

    Of course, it certainly doesn't hurt either that the game looks and sounds amazing. This is a late-era DS game, and it show beautifully: the colours are splendid, the graphics bristle with exquisite details and the 'Mons detailed animations are absolutely adorable. There is a staggering graphical gap between that game and Blue Rescue Team, and it's all for the best given how primitive the latter was in that department. As for the soundtrack, it is a pure piece of ear candy with dozens of tracks in various styles, most of them being considerably more complex than what you'd expect to find in a Pokemon spin-off aimed mainly at kids.

    Although I'm not done yet with my playthrough, I can safely say that the DS branch of the series has totally and beautifully redeemed itself thanks to Explorers of Sky. It has done so to such extent that I'm even considering giving another try to Blue Rescue Team, the game that started the grudge in the first place. Or former grudge, should I say, because this is now a thing of the past. The present is all about playing Explorers of Sky and enjoying it to the fullest, and you can expect more writing about that game before I'm done with it—and after, for that matter. Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


    Amnesia:Memories: The Spade Route (SPOILERS!)

    Although I've not been writing about Amnesia:Memories this week, I've been glued to it and managed to polish off the four main routes already. This game is getting more engrossing by the route, and I will most certainly miss it once I clear the Joker Route, which I'm currently exploring. But we're not there yet. For now, let's concentrate on Ikki!

    The Spade Route was quite different from the Heart Route in terms of narrative logic. Unlike the Heart Route, the Spade Route didn't offer me an enormous and conveniently obvious clue on a silver plate to let me know what memories I was missing and how to retrieve them. Ikki was also significantly harder to decode than Shin, and his feelings and intentions toward me were murkier. As a result, my first run ended up on two of the three bad endings, which was not exactly encouraging.

    This opening run led me first to the "I'll get rid of those who hurt you" ending. This is a 'branching path' type of ending that is triggered by a single answer, regardless of everything that happened before, so it's actually quite easy to avoid once you know the crucial dialogue choice leading there. Since I didn't know, I fell prey to that ending and had to joy of witnessing my own demise at the hands of Ikki's crazy fan club members. My, what a chilling outcome! I was expecting to be murdered by Ukyo again, so this came as a total surprise. How many psychopaths are hovering around me, exactly? Anyway, I reloaded my last save file presto and kept playing, and unearthed the "I wanted us to live together" ending at the end of that first playthrough. Not too surprising, given that I had been instinctively odious to Ikki from the get-go. Still, getting two bad endings in a row stung a bit.

    But I was not going to give up, oh no. I stood up, brushed myself off and started a second run in which I tried my hardest to be nice to Ikki. My efforts paid off and I unearthed the normal ending. Victory! Well, not quite. To be honest, I really couldn't fathom what memories I was still missing, let alone how to reclaim them. The only vague clues I had were the message about a report that was sent to me early on, Ikki's proposition to live together and that mysterious three-months deadline. No matter how I tried to piece these elements together, that was not enough to give me a clear idea of what I was supposed to do to get the much-coveted good ending.

    I thus decided to resort to a different tactic, namely to monitor the parameter gauges closely and use them to guide me. This hadn't been necessary in the Heart Route because the logic there was so blatantly obvious, but this extra help was now becoming mandatory. My goal was to keep the Suspicion Gauge at its lowest while trying to max up the Affection and Trust Gauges, and I engaged in a assiduous micro-management campaign in which I saved before every dialogue choice, picked an answer and checked the gauges afterwards to see their evolution. I then loaded my save file, picked the other available answer(s) and checked the gauges again, and then loaded my save file again and selected the answer that had wielded the best result in terms of parameter increase. That may sound utterly boring, but it was actually immensely fun. I was surprised more than once by the 'best' choices, and was surprised even more when I finally discovered the ultimate plot twist of the Spade Route as the result of all my hard work. Gee, I knew that this mysterious message about a report was important! This was the prelude to the good ending, which saw me move together with Ikki while getting partially rid of the fan club clique. Only partially, mind you, because they are still hovering around him like hungry vultures around carrion. I guess nothing is ever perfect, in otome games like in the real world! Oh, well.

    Elated and enboldened by this resounding success, I decided to hunt for the last ending of the Spade Route, namely the "Not bad, God" bad ending. Since rebuffing Ikki had led me to one ending already, I figured out that the requirements for getting the third bad ending had to be different, and my guess was that they revolved around the Suspicion Gauge. I had tried my hardest not to rouse suspicions about my amnesia during my previous runs; but this time around, I went for suspect behaviour full force and gave entirely dubious answers that made the Suspicion Gauge burst at the seams. The result was drastic: Ikki confronted me about my conduct, and went in a rage upon learning that I had not confided in him despite having amnesia. He sprouted a bunch of lies and threatened me before chasing me out of his room, and that was the end of both our relation and the run. Third bad ending successfully uncovered!

    Since I was at it, I decided to uncover the second bad ending of the Heart Route. I though that being cold to both Shin and Toma would do the trick, but to my utter surprise, this behaviour generated the normal ending again. This unexpected outcome led me to the conclusion that I had to be cold to Shin and nice to Toma all the way in order to get that second bad ending. This was the only combination I had not tried, so it had to be the winning one, right? Well, I was not disappointed: it was the winning combination allright, and it led me to be murdered. By Toma. Seriously, game? I don't mind being murdered by random psychos like Rika or Ukyo, but always-nice, always-smiling big-brotherly Toma? That came as a shock, honestly. And indeed, it turns out that this adorable guy is actually the creepiest creep of them all—but more on that later. Suffice it to say that after witnessing that ending, I started having serious reservations about the Diamond route.

    That's all for the Spade Route, fellow gamers! It was a challenging and fun route despite Ikki's irritating behaviour. I'll see you soon with my report about the Clover Route. Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


    Demon Gaze: Ce n'est qu'un au revoir

    Now is the time to craft my ultimate post about Demon Gaze, before other dungeon crawlers take the scene. I'll keep it neat and nice, with a digest of my run followed by a list of the points that charmed me the most and a list of the points that moderately annoyed me and that I would love to see corrected in an hypothetical sequel. Without further ado, here are my final thoughts about Demon Gaze!

    So, here's my run in a nutshell. I played for 38 hours, which is quite a reasonable amount of time for a dungeon crawler, and reached Lv. 72. I stuck to the same three Artifacts the whole time, namely Counter, Killer Edge and Slash (1 then 2), as they were perfectly fit for a solo run; the last two slots accommodated whichever extra Artifact I found, although none of them stuck for long. My favourite and most used demons were Mars, Chronos, Venus and Neptune; I occasionally cruised around with Comet, Hermes, Uranus and Pluto and never touched Jupiter and Astro. I obtained very few pieces of gear, usually sticking to the same ones for hours on end; this occasionally created slight unbalance problems, as I found myself overpowered by enemies because of my outdated equipment. I farmed gear very seldom and never needed to grind for money since I was playing solo; I level-grinded only twice, namely before the very first and the very last boss fight of the main game. And that, fellow gamers, is the gist of my run. Now let's move on to the good and not-so-good points of Demon Gaze!

    The excellent:

    I won't elaborate further on the lovely atmosphere, the solo run-friendliness and the awesome roaming since I already covered them in my first post. Instead, here are the new positive points that I discovered since:

    •  The fan-service is pleasantly varied, catering to every potential audience in equal measure. There's plenty of bare skin, bosoms and revealing outfits, both on males and females. Shotacon and lolicon adepts should be most fond of Lulu, Kukure and Prometh, while the yaoi crew will lap up Cassel and Lezerem's constant bickering and sentences such as Astro's "Take me with those eyes"—addressed to the main character in a deep, nearly sultry voice, of course. Yuri aficionados are not forgotten and get a pleasant treat with Pinay's hilarious obsession with Fran. It's nice to find such an open-minded stance about fan-service, and the pervasive humour at work in the game makes that inclusive brand of fan-service even more palatable. 
    • The boss fights are totally awesome, period. For a more elaborate take on the matter, check out my boss run posts here, there and there.
    • Instead of getting steadily larger, the dungeons inflate and deflate at random throughout the game. The largest and trickiest dungeon of the main game, Grimodar Castle, is located at the halfway mark, while the last and second-last dungeon are even tinier than the very first one, and in-between can be found dungeons of all sizes. This variety keeps the crawling fresh and interesting and injects a modicum of pacing into it. Cherry on the cake, the dungeons always remain easy to navigate and don't overuse cheap traps and tricks to disorient the player and increase the game's longevity.
    • The soundtrack is pure ear-candy—to the point that I was just that close to purchasing the special edition of the game for the OST only. A special mention to the theme track of Fall Palace, a.k.a. "Eden of the Monarch". These choirs!! This orgel!! Oh, the delight!! This track is the epitome of grandeur and one of the best pieces of music I've ever heard in a video game, period.  
    • The demons ooze charisma, so much so that I grew seriously attached to them. I really appreciate that so much effort was put into designing their looks, clothing, attitudes and speech patterns, making them sparkling and magnetic despite the fact that they are not even animated. Cherry on the cake, the voice acting is absolutely stellar, and I couldn't get enough of my demon foils' babbling. And it certainly doesn't hurt that they shine in battle and grant so many passive abilities, now does it? They are simply awesome, and I wouldn't be surprised if I miss them when playing my next first-person dungeon crawler. 
    • The romance with Fran was heart-warming and refreshing—just like the rest of the story. I half-feared that Fran would turn out to be the Real Final Boss in disguise, but these fears were unfounded; instead, I got a lovely "let's live together at the Inn forever!" ending that warmed my soft gamer's heart.

    The "could have been a trifle better":

    • I was none too pleased with the fact that the best gear had to be farmed in Demon Circles, preferably with Increase, Strenghten and Gold/Silver/Bronze gems. Regular monster drops are few and far between and mediocre for the most part and the selection available at the Inn is absolutely pitiful, which means that farming is not an option but rather the only way to get something valuable; and to be honest, I resented that. I love grinding, yet I dislike farming; and I would definitely have preferred to grind for money in order to buy ludicrously expensive yet powerful pieces of gear in Cassel's shop rather than to try my luck in Demon Circles and manically reload my save file until I got a good drop. I'm not saying it's an horrible system per se, mind you; it just didn't click with me.
    • The Ether Forge was an awesome idea, but why put limitations on the strengthening? And why are these limitations totally random? It doesn't make sense that some pieces of gear can be strenghtened up to Lv.30 while others can only reach Lv.10. I would have preferred to have access to unlimited strengthening, be it against a hefty sum of money. 
    • The Treasure Maps were an great idea on paper, but the execution was flawed. Each individual map occupies one of the 99 available item slots in the inventory, so carrying these maps around at all times quickly becomes impossible; and once they are tucked away in the Inn's Storage, it's all too easy to forget about them entirely. It certainly doesn't help that most of them refer to places that belong to postgame territory and that they don't mention the name of the dungeon itself, but rather the name of the dungeon subsection where the item can be found, which forces the potential treasure hunter to do a lot of scanning and double-checking. Add to this the fact that the obtained treasures are items rather than pieces of gear and you'll understand why, as my run went on, I got into the habit of selling these maps as soon as I came back from roaming.
    • Only three Demon Slots, no matter how much you level up. That's plain stingy, game! 
    • Instant deaths because my "weakness was exploited", as the game kindly puts it. And no, Poinee Dolls don't work in such instances—tried and tested. Now that's plain cheap, game! 

    Well, well. That's all about Demon Gaze for the time being, but I'm far from being done with that game. I loved it with a passion and still do, and I can assert with absolute certainty that this precious cartridge will grace my Vita slot again. And now, on to the next first-person dungeon crawler! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


    Amnesia:Memories: Auspicious start

    Let me tell you this: Amnesia:Memories may be the first otome game I've ever played, but it certainly won't be the last. Because to my utter surprise and delight, I'm enjoying that game much more than I thought I would. Heck, I'm relishing every minute of it!

    Interestingly, what fascinates and enthralls me so much in that game is not the romance side or the cast of bachelors. The romance is both utterly cliché and too twisted to feel rewarding, and the potential sweethearts are downright unlikeable, so these blooming relationships don't make my heart flutter in the slightest. What rivets me and glues me to my Vita screen is the challenge set by the game, which is none other than to try my hardest to figure out how to get all the available endings.

    Unlike Steins;Gate, Amnesia:Memories sports a solid dose of logic when it comes to narrative developments. It is actually possible to determine which course of action must be followed in order to get a given ending, and bad endings can be smelled from afar. Likewise, it is pretty easy to figure out which dialogues are relevant to the plot and which ones are idle babbling that won't alter the course of events. The gauges that can be found in the "Parameters" options of the menu also help tremendously as they allow a close monitoring of the consequences of dialogue choices, as well as the fact that already chosen dialogues options are highlighted in subsequent reruns. Using all these clues as well as rational thinking, I cleared the Heart Route and managed to unearth the good end and the normal end as well as one of the two bad endings all by myself, and I'm quite proud of that feat. (SPOILERS ahead!)

    That being said, I have to admit that the game fooled me allright at first and managed to lure me in the wrong direction in a most masterful way. I was introduced to Shin, who also happened to be a first-class prick, and it was pretty obvious that I was going to dislike him at first sight and clash vigorously with him. I suspected him of being involved in my accident and thus gave him the cold shoulder while being friendly with Toma during the first half of my run. I then realized that maybe Shin was not guilty after all and started being nicer to him, but the damage was already done and I got the normal ending as a result. I love how utterly logical this outcome is in the context of the story: I was being nice to Toma and colder to Shin, which obviously meant that I liked the former and didn't the latter that much; and thus, it made perfect sense that I would repress the memory of Toma attacking me because of my affection for him and wouldn't be motivated to remember said memory because my love for Shin was not strong enough to endure the pain of facing the fact that Toma attacked me. From there, I deduced that the way to get the good ending probably involved being as nice as possible to Shin and as distant as possible towards Toma; this would thus mean that I liked the former and felt disconnected from the latter enough to face the harsh truth and remember the accident, and I applied this reasoning in a fresh run of the Heart Route. This proved highly successful, as I uncovered the good ending at the end of that run. Victory! I also managed to nail down the "I'm not the culprit" bad end, which was, well, bad in an almost hilarious way. And talking about that end, I have the feeling that this Ukyo is fishy. What's with all this talk about me getting along with my friends no matter how we are involved together? Could Ukyo be a spirit able to navigate between worlds, just like Orion? Well, I guess I'll find out sooner or later. I still have one bad ending left on the Heart Route, and if my reasoning is correct, I should manage to unearth it if I give the cold shower to Shin all the way through, which I plan to try at some point. For now, on to the next one!

    On a more general note, I wonder if unlikeable sweethearts and over-complicated relationships are a staple in otome games or if they are specific to Amnesia:Memories. The path to love is sure full of landmines in that game, and it felt a bit galling to work so hard to earn the affection of a douchebag who doesn't even seem to care that much about my transparent, uncharismatic character. If not for the challenge of trying to figure out how to regain my precious memories—i.e. how to get the good end and beat the game—I think I wouldn't bother playing the game at all. But fortunately, the challenge is there, and I'm lapping it up. Brace yourself, Ikki, I'm preying on you next! Until my next report on the matter, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


    Demon Gaze: Boss rush, solo style (3)

    Here come the third part of my Boss rush, fellow crawlers! Once again, that's four new bosses for the road—including none other than the final boss of the main game. Yes folks, we're already there! Just like in my former post, there is a modicum of spoilers involved. Without further ado, here are the dishes of the day!

    —Uranus: Light demon Uranus boasts excellent defense and stellar healing abilities, along with the ability to generate several rows of protective seeds at once. Regular hits from both Uranus and the seeds can Silence the party, so using buffs and any other spells in that fight is entirely out of the question—at least when playing solo. Winning this fight required four attempts and a fair bit of tinkering on my part. A first attempt with Chronos, Neptune and Mars as my open demon failed as Mars was taken down in a couple of turns. I then decided to exploit Uranus' weakness, namely the fact that just like Astro and Venus, she can only summon a given number of rows of seeds, after which she's left seedless and defenseless. My strategy was thus to cast Heal Shower 2 at the beginning of the fight and team with Chronos to get rid of all the seeds, after which I would open Mars and enrage her to get rid of Uranus quickly and neatly. Things started well, but unfortunately, the Demon Gauge emptied before I could get rid of the seeds, sending Chronos into Rage Mode and obliterating my strategy in the process, since enraged Chronos did not hit hard enough to counteract Uranus' abundant healing. I made a third attempt in which I tried to get rid of the seeds all by myself, and was pummeled to death despite the Heal Shower since every single blow from Uranus and the seeds was aimed at me. My fourth and last attempt reprised the strategy of my second attempt, only with a closer monitoring of the Demon Gauge. I closed Chronos as soon as the gauge reached the 30 mark and finished the seeds myself, then opened Mars and enraged her. Even with enraged Mars by my side, it took a fair amount of turns to get rid of Uranus because of her high defense and regular healing, but we finally managed it. This fight really forced me to devise a tailor-made strategy, and it ended up being all the more satisfying.

    —Pluto: Darkness demon Pluto is all about spells, instant deaths and debuffs. She doesn't hit that hard, but she uses the Demon Gaze attack as well as the Demon Vase, which means that Heal Shower is basically useless in that fight. Knowing that, I went at her with Venus and Chronos to reduce spell damage and Mars as my open demon. We proceeded to get rid of the seeds as usual, which was done rather quickly since defense is not Pluto's strongest suit, after which I enraged Mars and we pummeled Pluto into submission in a couple of turns. This actually happened during my second try; on my first attempt, Pluto killed me on the spot by "exploiting my weakness", as the game puts it. Still, this was a rather easy and straightforward fight, preceeded by an incredibly small dungeon. After the enormousness of dungeons such as Grimodar Castle and Endless Road, finding a dungeon as tiny as King's Court was most refreshing and relaxing.

    —Ether Mirage: Just like Astarte before her, Ether Mirage has the potential to be incredibly tedious despite not being a main demon. She has no seeds, she doesn't hit hard at all and she cannot use major debuffs, and yet she can be literally impossible to eliminate without the right strategy. The issue at work here is that Ether Mirage has stellar defense and amazing healing abilities and can use Divine Armor to boost her already high defense stats; this can lead to a situation where the damage dealt to her is not high enough to counteract her ridiculously good healing, making her de facto impossible to beat. My strategy to overcome that hurdle involved taking along both Uranus and Mars to boost my hit power as well as Chronos to take care of my defense. I opened Mars and enraged her from the very first turn, and then proceeded to use Concentrate and Jupiter Bane to dish out a maximum amount of damage, all the while using Demon Vases to counteract Ether Mirage's Divine Armour when necessary. This strategy paid off nicely, as I finally got rid of Ether Mirage after a couple of turns of intense fighting. 

    —Sol: This is the last fight of the main game, the epic showdown we've been waiting for since first setting foot in the Inn. And it was also by far the cheapest, most infuriating fight of the whole game as far as I my run was concerned. How come, you may ask? Well, unlike the fights that preceded it, this ultimate fight against Sol is all based on strength and luck. Forget about perfect demon settings and fine-tuned strategies: the only thing that matters against Sol is to inflict a maximum amount of damage, preferably in a minimum amount of time. Sol is basically all the demons rolled up together in one nasty package, and instead of summoning seeds, she summons copies of the demons—which means that you can find yourself literally fighting two bosses at once, if not three or four. The game pits you first against Luna as an introductory fight, and getting rid of her is easy enough with enraged Mars and Concentrate; however, things get nastier after that, when the game introduces you to Sol without any complimentary healing or refilling of the Demon Gauge. After twelve failed attempts to beat Sol, I had to admit that I was simply not strong enough to perform the deed. I kept being killed on the spot, knocked out and pummeled to death, or Sol summoned demons faster than Mars and me could eliminate them, or whatever else, but there was always something preventing me from winning. I retreated, grinded for two hours with Mars, Chronos and Venus—who were my demons of choice for that fight, en passant—and came back with a handful of extra levels for both my demon foils and myself and a longer Demon Gauge. The third try of that second assault finally brought me the long-awaited victory against Sol and an immense relief to be done with that fight at long last.

    I was none too pleased with that last fight, honestly. On one hand, it makes perfect sense that Sol was stronger and nastier than the rest of the demons, and I admit that I would have been disappointed if she had yielded as fast as, say, Venus or Pluto; on the other hand, making her so massively overpowered, to the point where level-grinding was mandatory to beat her, was a bit of a cheap trick. The importance given to the luck factor in that fight was also quite infuriating. Although luck plays a part in all boss fights in Demon Gaze and can help the player secure a faster victory, the fight against Sol required luck to be won at all, even with the adequate level of strength. It was a meaty and thrilling fight against a formidable opponent all right, but it was also cheap and underhand. Oh, well.

    This post marks the end of my boss rush, as well as the end of my run for the time being. I was firmly set on exploring every single post-game dungeon and started roaming the Black Cage as soon as the credits were over, but I stumbled on a massive roadblock that stopped my progression dead as surely as empty batteries. That roadblock is none other than demon Aries, who I cannot beat for the life of me. I tried to do so seven times so far, and she insta-killed me every single time by exploiting my weakness. Every single time. And we're talking about the first encounter with her in a circle, not the real boss fight against her! I guess I could keep trying until I get a stroke of luck, or I could get some better gear and artifacts, or even grind to raise my pitiful Luck stats—and maybe I will indeed do all that after a while; but for the time being, I've stopped playing Demon Gaze. I cleared the main game and thus feel that I have done my gaming duty; and although exploring post-game dungeons is undoubtedly tempting, I have to admit that I lost my drive ever-so-slightly after seeing the credits roll. Oh, well. I still want to explore dungeons though, probably more than ever. Fortunately, Moe Chronicles and Dungeon Travelers 2 are right at hand to satisfy my roaming urges, and one of them will become my next first-person dungeon crawler very soon. I'm not done with Demon Gaze though, at least in writing: I will craft a last post to sum up my feelings about the game, and hopefully more if I pick it up again and make my way through postgame territory. Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime! 


    Collector's delight: A most divine edition

    In the wake of my recent purchase of the FFCC: Echoes of Time DSi, I started hunting for other interesting editions of the system. To my surprise, there are actually not so many of them, and it seems that the DSi cannot hold a candle to the New 3ds when it comes to swarming the market with countless special editions—judging whether this is a good or a bad thing is left to everyone's discretion. At any rate, it turned out that only one edition of the system was gorgeous enough to capture my eye, namely the SaGa 2 special edition that had already been on my radar for quite some time. The Kingdom Hearts edition turned out to be too Disney-ish for my taste upon close inspection, and the Ace Attorney edition looks plain weird and doesn't please my retinas in the slightest. I already own the Pokemon White edition, so this SaGa 2 DSi that I snatched for a very fair price may well be the last special edition of the DSi that I purchase. Anyway, behold the gorgeousness of that piece of kit!

    It comes packed with the game, which I would have LOVED to see localized. Not that this will stop me from playing it sooner or later, mind you; I loved the Gameboy version so much that not playing this remake is simply unthinkable. The console itself looks amazing with its hamonious colour palette and its blend of matte and glossy textures.

    While I'm at it, I may as well mention two other collecting-oriented purchases I've made lately, starting with the limited physical edition of Ar Nosurge Plus. I was patiently waiting for a discount on that game on the PSN store when I learnt that limited physical copies of the game had been pressed for the North-American market. I knew right away that I needed one of these, and a couple of days later, a brand-new copy had joined my collection.

    Although I'm delighted to own a physical copy of such a major release (Vita-wise, that is), I'm none too pleased with the goodies that came packed with the game. We're talking about a pin badge, a cleaning cloth, a poster and a sticker sheet, all things entirely useless that won't bring a thing to the gameplay experience and are nothing but cheap items to boot. This is the typical example of a half-hearted attempt at putting together a special edition: instead of going for it full force and crafting a valuable package with useful and gorgeous feelies that could enhance the whole gameplay experience and strengthen the player's love for the game, the publisher threw in a handful of trinkets sporting the game's colours to justify a higher price tag and make it look like they were selling something more valuable than the game and its box alone. Well, the trick didn't work with me, and I would have preferred either the game alone with no bibelots or a full-blown special edition with strategy guide, soundtrack and the like. Oh, well.

    Last but not least, here is my brand-new Asian copy of Moe Chronicle! I had written this kinky first-person dungeon crawler off as a distant dream that could never be played, until I learnt about Asian editions sporting english and the possibility to order such editions from Play-Asia. Next thing I knew, the game had joined my precious collection, ready to be played and enjoyed to the fullest.

    This was my first purchase ever from Play-Asia, but it certainly won't be the last—all the more so as these excellent sellers were kind enough to include a discount coupon in the parcel, despite the fact that I was a brand-new customer. Now that's what I called stellar business practices! I was already planning to buy more games from them, but this unexpected kind gesture motivates me to do so even more.

    That's all for the time being! Since I love Demon Gaze so much, I was just that close to ordering the special edition of that game, but I managed to restrain myself. I already own a physical copy of the game, after all, and the goodies are not that great anyway. There are enough games waiting to be purchased not to waste my money on purchasing games that I already own! As for future purchases, there is not much on my radar right now. The special editions of the New 3ds slated for release until Christmas could have interested me if not for my dwindling love for the system, so the only 'special' I'm looking forward to getting my paws on is the Lionheart Edition of Trails of Cold Steel, which packs a yummy-looking artbook for a price hardly higher than the price of game alone. I am so getting it, I am! Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!