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!