Play in Progress: Pokemon run reports

My recent Pokemon addiction is still roaring and shows no signs of abating. On top of polishing off Blue, I've been trying to tie up a couple of loose ends in other Pokemon entries these last days—with more or less success. Without further ado, here's a round-up of my late Pokemon activities:

Pokemon Blue: My run ended as quietly as it had started, after an anticlimatic final showdown with newly anointed League Champion Red. As I didn't mention in my last post, my run of Blue was a Squirtle solo run, and it was too ridiculously easy to be truly entertaining. Nobody could resist the massive blows of my overleveled Squirtle and the fact that Gym Leaders nearly never resorted to potions made my progression even more boringly effortless. I have nothing interesting to add about that run, so I'm going to explain the reasoning behind my Squirtle's nickname instead: I'm playing the French version of the game, and Squirtle's french name is "Carapuce", which is a pun on the words "carapace" (shell) and "puce" (flea). I decided to extract the last part of the name and to transform it into "pupuce", which is a lovely nickname that can be translated into "honey bee", "pumpkin", "sweetie" and the like. Hence a delicious irony when my lovely Pupuce evolved into an enormous monster of an fortified turtle. Now that's Poke-linguistics for you!

 —Pokemon Black: I learnt some time ago that unbeknownst to me, I had accomplished a feat of sorts by clearing solo runs of Black and White with two 'Mons belonging to the Neverused Tier, i.e. Liepard and Samurott. Or rather nearly cleared in the case of Black, since I stopped playing after the first encounter with the Elite Four; however, knowing that I had managed to make my way through Unova with two 'Mons deemed as crappy fighters filled me with pride and prompted me to pick up Black again and finish the job. I leveled up my Purry all the way to Lv.100 and I'm now trying to tackle the Elite Four a second time around. It's not working too well so far—especially against the Figthting Champion, as you may imagine—and I may have to allow fainting&reviving if I want to overcome that hurdle; but I'm quite convinced that beating the Elite Four with my Liepard is an attainable feat. I'll keep trying, I promise!

Pokemon Heart Gold: After polishing off Blue, I decided to wrap up my interrupted run of Heart Gold by exploring revamped Kantoh. I progressed without a hitch through a much more lovely and colourful version of the mother of all Pokemon regions; however, I got bored after a while and ditched the game yet again after beating the Fuschia City Gym Leader. Kantoh is overall a pretty dull and uninspired region—especially compared to regions from latter entries—and extra colours and details cannot work miracles and single-handedly make it breathtakingly interesting.

That's all for this play-in-progress report, dear fellow gamers. A bit heavy on the Pokemon side, maybe—but that is bound to change, as I'm currently pondering several games belonging to others franchises for immediate playthroughs. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Pokemon Blue: Inglorious beginnings (a.k.a. The Blastoise Solo Run)

The Pokemon rampage is still going on full force, to my wonderment and delight; and after my run of White, I decided to make an audacious jump to the monochromous roots of the series. I wanted to see at long last where and how it all started, and so I dug up my Blue cartridge bought two years ago, my silver GBA and dove into yet another playthrough of a Pokemon game. And the result... Well, the result was unlike anything I'd have expected. In a good and bad way.

I'll be blunt: from what I've played of Blue so far, I totally and utterly fail to understand how that game could single-handedly drag the Gameboy out of its early retirement and sell millions of cartridges around the world. I fail even more to understand how it could take Gamefreak nearly six years to come up with that game— notwithstanding that the development phase was an on-and-off process. Because what I'm seeing and playing right now is nothing more than a half-baked, clunky and overall barely decent RPG. For all the praise nostalgic players lavish upon it, the first Pokemon generation is shockingly unpolished compared to later generations and to other Gameboy RPGs—and here's how:

—It takes but a glance to realize that Blue's graphics are shockingly primitive, even by Gameboy standards. Such over-simplistic graphics would have been acceptable in the early stages of the console's lifetime; but in 1995, they were horribly dated. This is worsened by the fact that Tajiri and his team obviously didn't put a lot of effort into embellishing their game world; voluntarily or not, they did only the bare minimum in that regard and left it at that. Trees look like boulders, tall grass looks like sprouts and so on. Good thing that I knew beforehand that Tajiri intended to channel the lushness of untamed nature in Blue/Red, because I certainly wouldn't have guessed it from seeing Blue's graphics.

—The pacing is quite terrible. Blue feels like a long plodding trudge for the most part: tension and excitement are absent, goals are embarrassingly vague and there is very little incentive to move on to the next spot in line. Had I not known the Pokemon formula inside out, I'm not sure I would have been able to spell out what I was precisely supposed to achieve in that game. This impotent pacing is considerably worsened by the fake longevity-friendly bane of old-school RPGs, i.e. regular obstructions that require talking to every single NPC, scouring the whole game world and generally performing ludicrous actions to be overcome. I admit it: I resorted to internet wisdom more than once during my run of Blue. I didn't feel like fine-combing every town to find a beverage for the gate guards, nor could I bring myself to try to get my paws on a bike. And let's not even talk about the game actually forcing me to capture ten different 'Mons in order to get a mandatory item. To my dismay, there were also all too many occurrences of another annoying old-school RPG trope, the dreaded "Where do I go next?" For all their twisted retro charm, these hindrances gave me the unpleasant feeling of progressing by fits and starts without ever managing to find a flowing playing rhythm. Granted, it's a first-playthrough-only issue—but an aggravating one nonetheless.

—The inventory is absolutely horrendous. I found myself staring at the thing in disbelief and wondering if this was a bad joke of sorts. Twenty spots only in the bag? And fifty more only in the PC? No subcategories? No automatic sortering? Seriously, this is a pure ergonomic nightmare. It's nearly as bad as FFL2—except that FFL2 has the excuse of having been released five years before Blue.

—While the inventory is horrendous, the move management is nothing short of calamitous. I just cannot believe the fact that there is absolutely no way to check the elemental nature of moves, their base strength and, last but not least, their effects. What were they thinking, seriously? Were players supposed to test moves at random and reload their save files if they were not happy with the results? Heck, I guess that's exactly what they were supposed to do. It's pretty obvious that elemental complementaries and strategy as a whole were but an afterthought in the first generation and that the meat and potatoes of Red/Blue was the completion of the Pokedex.

—The narrative is weak, superficial and childish to a fault. Take resident rival Red: why does this guy even challenge me in the first place and why does he resent me so vehemently? Sure, I guess I wouldn't be happy either if my own grandfather couldn't remember my name and if he offered the kid next door a 'Mon before offering me one; but honestly, Red's dislike is fickle at best and totally baseless at worst. You can also forget about the gentle holistic vibe introduced by latter entries of the series, with their emphasis on human/pokemon collaboration: pretty much everybody in Kantoh is an immature prick whose sole joy in life is to use their 'Mons as mere tools to challenge random passerby to glorified rooster fights. Jeez, now I understand why the series was initially accused of promoting animal abuse. Also, I don't know if this is specific to the french traduction I'm playing, but the language used by NPCs is pretty sloppy and aggressive, with abbreviations that shouldn't be seen in written text, invasive slang and insults thrown at my face on a regular basis. Bloody obnoxious Red routinely calls me a punk and a loser—despite the fact that I pulverize him every time we fight, which is quite laughable—and random people rebuff me way too often for my taste and comfort. I could have done without all that callousness, thank you very much. Dialogues are also incredibly vapid compared to latter entries, in which even the most insignificant NPC is granted interesting and instructive lines that give a better understanding of the local region.

—The level design is quite poor. Wild areas between towns sport an uncanny amount of empty space whose monotony is broken solely by the rows of Trainers standing around idly. Towns, on the other hand, are annoyingly labyrinthine, with a ridiculously high number of ledges, fences, bushes and other obstacles whose sole purpose seems to be to force the player into detours. (I'm looking murderously at you, Fuschia City.)

Let's wrap this up: I'm not impressed by the early stages of the Pokemon series. I'm so totally not impressed that Blue can now claim the dubious honour of being my least favourite Pokemon entry. While this game obviously delights the retro gamer in me with its old-school trappings, it leaves the Poke aficionado in me pretty unsated. Without nostalgia to make the heart grow fonder, the first generation is nothing more than a passable try with a lot of room for improvement. And boy, was there indeed improvement! Playing Blue made me fully realize the extent of the vertiginous progress that took place throughout the series. The Pokemon formula has been beautifully and cleverly refined over time; and with all due respect to nostalgic players who discovered the series with Blue/Red, the latest Pokemon instalments are the pinnacle of sophistication compared to these coarse beginnings. With that, dear fellow gamers, I rest my case. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Collector's delight: Recto-verso

Halfway between reversible clothing and drawings hidden under manga jackets, two-sided cover foils are the new en vogue gaming Easter Egg. I discovered the existence of that trend as I was checking my newly received copy of Trillion God of Destruction: my sharp eyes spotted unaccountable patches of colours through the box' interstices, and a keener examination revealed the unthinkable: the cover fold was illustrated on both sides! I was so elated by that unexpected discovery that I immediatly started inspecting the rest of my Vita collection; and to my utter delight, I uncovered more of these recto-verso covers. Here are the most memorable ones in all their colourful glory!

In addition to these exclusive covers, I also found some interesting variations on other games. Illustrations devoid of text are featured behind the cover folds of several Hyperdimension games, Trails of Cold Steel's cover fold sports both the European and North-American art for the game (Trillion does the same with the Japanese and Western art) and the Asian version of Moe Chronicles has a reversible English/Chinese cover. But what about 3DS games, you may ask? Well, although they are not as keen on that trend as Vita games, I managed to extract two gorgeous examples from my collection:

These alternative covers are often strikingly more beautiful than the official ones—so much so that I decided to leave a couple of them in place. They also tend to be starker and more sober, evacuating text and logos to focus on a more unified and stylish overall look, and they don't hesitate to wallow in kawaisa and moe-inducing designs. (This culminates in the cover of Stranger of Sword City, whose sole gimmick and purpose is to offer a kawaii version of the original character designs to moe-hungry players.) It's fascinating to see how the simple act of shifting a game cover can give a totally new vibe to said game; this is the kind of exquisite detail that makes physical games valuable and provides excellent incentive to purchase them, on top of adding a nice element of surprise to the discovery of new games. Now that I'm aware of the existence of that lovely feature, I'll keep my eyes peeled and check every new Vita game for a hidden cover design. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Pokemon White: The Samurott Solo Run

Here we go again! It seems that I just can't get enough of Pokemon these days, as I just cleared my third solo run in a row and am still left wanting more. When and where will this Pokemon rampage stop? I have no idea; but as for my Oshawott solo run of White, it ended up in the most glorious fashion after roughly 18 hours of fulfilling play. I finally wrapped up that unfinished business with the Elite Four and the Champion and wiped the floor with them all. They couldn't stand the assaults of my Lv.100 Samurott, could they? No, they couldn't. Still, they put up quite a fight, and I had to use an uncanny number of Full Restores during both Elite Four showdowns. My verdict regarding the solo run-friendliness of the resident Black/White Water Starter goes as such: Oshawott is undeniably a better choice for a solo run than Purrloin, yet he remains undeniably inferior to his Diamond/Pearl counterpart Piplup. What you can expect when cruising around with the samurai otter alone is a neatly balanced solo run, neither too painfully hard nor too boringly easy.

To my utter delight, this solo run of White was much more pleasant that my recent solo run of Black. The in-game weather played a huge part, as Spring Unova is definitely cosier and more welcoming than Winter Unova; and since I knew what to expect from Unova as a whole, I was not repulsed anymore by its urban and slightly barren vibe. Heck, I even came to love it to some extent! Not only is industrial Unova a pretty consistent region in its own right, but it also brings some welcome variety to the Pokemon region pool. I also tolerated Cheren and Bianca a lot better after figuring out that their behaviour had a symbolic meaning tied to the game's overall message: Bianca and the obvious limitations that she's forced to acknowledge embody the Truth, while Cheren and his drive to succeed and be the best at all costs embody the Ideal. That doesn't make them lovelier or more likeable, but their polarized and seemingly unreasonable behaviours are not as hard to swallow once one knows that they are supposed to be personifications of concepts rather than kawaii sidekicks.

Although I'm racking my brain in search for something to add, there is really nothing more to say; and that's not too surprising, given that I already wrote two full reports about Black—one about my Purrloin solo run and one about my overall impression of the game. I will thus leave it at that, even though it makes that post look more like a glorified footnote than like a true run report. My Oshawott solo run was a jolly good one that somehow reconciled me with the Fifth Generation as a whole, and I'm now more thrilled at the prospect of playing White 2 and Black 2 than, say, at the end of my solo run of Black. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Collector's delight: A long-awaited edition

A couple of days ago, I finally received my elusive and much-awaited physical edition of Summon Night 5 after many a delay. I was surprised by the presentation of the thing: although the description at Play-Asia seems to imply that this limited physical edition is a Special of sorts, with the use of the world "bundle" and an appetizing list of featured items, the final product is actually more akin to a low-budget custom-made edition—which is exactly what it is, en passant. As a result, there was no outer box and the game and OST were sent separately, unceremoniously bundled by a rubber band:

The box contains a full-colour booklet and a reversible poster:

This is really just a regular PSP game with a poster and a soundtrack CD on top, but it's remarkable as one of the last of its kind and as a true work of love and passion. The fact that the UMD is a proprietary format that is no longer produced nowadays means that there will very likely be no more physical releases for the PSP and that the homebrew scene for this console will be emulator-based. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if Gajinworks had to ditch the planned limited physical edition of Class of Heroes 3 for an impossibility to procure UMDs. But let's wait and see—and hopefully play! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

PS: The North-American PSN code that came along with my physical edition is still there for the taking, by the way!


Pokemon Heart Gold: The Typhlosion Solo Run

I dove into Heart Gold immediatly after wrapping up my Purrloin solo run of Black and was treated to a pleasantly different experience. Heart Gold and Black may belong to the same franchise and be hosted by the same console, but they are far from being similar games. As a matter of fact, although Heart Gold looks every bit like a DS Pokemon entry, it takes only a little playing to realize that it actually hails from an older and less sophisticated gaming era.

Indeed, Heart Gold is a enhanced remake of Gameboy Color instalment Pokemon Gold, and this antiquity shows quite vividly despite the brilliant revamping and rehauling that the game went through. The major difference that immediatly struck me is how tinier the Johto region is compared to Sinnoh and Unova. Not only that, but it's also incredibly cosier and more homely. Johto treated me to the most mellow, friendly and heartwarming atmosphere I ever basked in in a Pokemon game. In fact, cruising around Johto feels more like taking a stroll in a glorified backyard than like roaming a vast unknown world in which adventure and excitement await at every corner. Not that it's a bad thing, mind you: I love the series first and foremost for its sweet and comforting vibe, and Heart Gold sure has that vibe in spades.

The progression in Heart Gold is also considerably less linear and streamlined than in DS and 3DS instalments. Not only is it mandatory to backtrack a number of times, but there are less clues regarding where the player is supposed to head to after clearing a given task. I found myself at a loss and fumbling around a couple of times—something I never experienced before in any Pokemon entry. The approach to HMs is also notably different: not only does Johto sport decidedly more HMs-restricted areas than Sinnoh&co, but its fauna is also much more reluctant to learn HM moves. HM slaves are nowhere to be found in Johto and I had to capture and release a good number of 'Mons before I finally got my paws on HM wielders. Playing Heart Gold is like sneaking a peek at the early stages of the series, when Game Freak was still experimenting to find the perfect Pokemon formula; it shows beautifully how much the series has evolved over time despite repeated accusations of the contrary.

Here's a quick digest of my run—which, as the title abundantly implies, was yet another solo run. I chose Cyndaquil solely for his looks, and his evolutions didn't dissapoint me. To see him trail behind me as I was roaming Johto made my heart melt, so much so that I wish this feature were available in more Pokemon entries. And taking about melting heart, there were so many adorable 'Mons cruising Johto that I was constantly itching to throw Pokeballs around—before remembering that I was supposed to run solo. (Well, at least I spotted a couple of fitting candidates for future solo runs.) My run went quite smoothly and without a hitch, to the point of qualifying as my Easiest Pokemon Run Ever by the time I was done with the Elite Four. My Cyndaquil leveled up at the speed of light and I don't remember struggling against any trainer or Gym Leader, let alone against the Champion. Maybe postgame revamped Kanto would have proven more of a challenge, but I decided not to explore it and put an end to my playthrough instead. The reason for this untimely demission is simple: I yet have to play the Gameboy instalments and I don't want to spoil myself. Once I'm done discovering Kanto in its original monochromatic guise, I'll go back to Heart Gold and roam colourful revamped Kanto. In the meantime, Trainer Gold and his faithful Typhlosion will have to lounge about in Vermilion City, where I left them after 15:30 hours of fulfilling play.

Cruising Johto was so delightful that I'm seriously tempted to get my paws on a Pokemon Crystal cartridge to discover the original version of that lovely region. Let's see what Amazon and Ebay have in store for a Poke-aficionado eager to dive into the retro depths of the series, shall we? Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Collecting: I've had my fill—well, nearly

Still getting some nice catch—but for how long?
I've been collecting games for five blissful years now and that collecting has been a constant source of joy, happiness and satisfaction. It very much still is, but one thing cannot be denied: I'm slowly but surely starting to feel sated.

This evolution shouldn't be too surprising, mind you. The main motivation behind my collecting was twofold: collecting was partly driven by a burning desire to overcompensate for my years away from gaming and to fulfill at long last my childhood dream of being able to purchase games to my heart's content, and partly driven by a firm intention to constitute a pool of gaming systems and games that would be there for the (re)playing in years to come. It's hard to deny that after five years of intense—and intensive—collecting, these two objectives have been reached several times over. My old frustration of not being able to indulge in my wildest game purchasing fantasies has been totally erased and is now but a distant memory; and with five gaming systems and hundreds of games at my disposal, I have enough gaming material for decades. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if I grew bored of gaming or if arthritis caught my thumbs and wrists before I'm done playing all the games in my collection.

On top of that, collecting games is slowly but surely losing its edge over the years to become business as usual, so to speak. The initial thrill of hunting for games has been dampened by time and hundreds of gaming purchases and I've become a trifle desensitized to the whole thing, going from browsing Ebay and Amazon for hours on end to hunt for the perfect bargain to placing preorders and grouping purchases in a perfectly blasé way. Long gone is the time when getting a good bargain on a game could illuminate my whole day; now I'm purchasing games in a rational and dispassionate way, methodically shearing my wishlist of the moment. Gaming purchases are still a great source of joy and I've not grown jaded towards the whole thing yet, but I could very much become so in the years to come. Heck, I'm already completely burnt out on special editions—what's the next step? I don't want my collecting to go down in my personal gaming history as something that I surfeited myself with, but rather as an pleasant endeavour that I wisely stopped before I got sick of it.

This led me to an crucial decision: I'm going to stop collecting games in the years to come, while collecting is still enjoyable. More specifically, I will ensure that my collecting stops with the 3DS and the Vita. Once these two bail out, I will not shift my collecting to other systems but rather deliberately stop collecting altogether. That doesn't mean that I will stop buying games entirely: I will very likely keep purchasing the odd game here and there, but that will become an isolated occurrence rather than a regular activity. But what about next gen handhelds, you may ask? Well, if there are any AND if I decide to invest in some of them, I will do so in a more carefree and less involved way. I will not collect for them and I will only purchase and play the very best games they have to offer. In a nutshell, future consoles will be nothing more than side dishes, the main courses being my five current handhelds—Vita, 3DS, PSP, DS and GBA, a.k.a. the Fab Five.

The announced end of my collecting endeavours obviously doesn't mean that I will stop playing games and blogging about them—let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, shall we? My precious collection is sizeable enough to provide gaming and writing material for many years to come, so I won't retire from gaming and blogging any time soon. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Collector's delight: A most bewitching edition

I've been pining for a Western release of DS RPG Ni no Kuni for years, praying that a publisher would treat us to a late release à la Summon Night 5. However, it's now been three years since the DS was discontinued and it's becoming painfully obvious that such a miraculous late release will not happen. I thus decided to import at long last a Japanese copy of the game, which was quite the smooth task: even nowadays, finding a cheap brand-new copy of Ni no Kuni is surprisingly easy.

The DS version of Ni no Kuni is famous for sporting a companion book and thus nearly qualifying as a special edition in terms of size and content. From what I've understood, the book is more or less mandatory to enjoy the game to the fullest, which may have played a part in the decision to not bring Ni no Kuni to our shores. It also makes the outer box quite imposing, resulting in the use of cardboard in lieu of plastic. The box is wrapped in a paper sheet similar to a classic videogame cover, which can be peeled to reveal the box underneath and its gorgeous motifs:

The book is a true work of art as well as love. It sports a luxurious gilded hardcover, and the inside is no less beautiful: pages are made of a beautiful ancient-looking brown paper and bristle with splendid illustrations completed with gracious adornments and curlicues. See for yourselves the beauty of that thing:

The variety of subjects covered in this splendid tome seems to be staggering, ranging from spells to a complete bestiary to an exhaustive description of all the game's items—and much, much more. I particularly appreciate the fact that the pronunciation of all kanji is included, which will be of great help for the Japanese beginner I still am.

In a nutshell, Ni no Kuni is a valuable addition to my precious collection and I am utterly delighted by that purchase. I can only encourage players who have even the slightest interest in that game to make their move and order it whilst there are still many cheap copies available. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Bravely Default: The true meaning of the ending (spoilers!)

Bravely Default's ending is thoroughly confusing, that much cannot be denied. However, a consensus of sorts has been reached regarding that complicated matter since the game's release. Most players now agree on the fact that Tiz was possessed by some entity at the very beginning of the game, which allowed him to wake up from his coma and play an active part in saving the world. There are still some disagreements regarding the exact nature of the entity that made themselves at home in Tiz' body, though: some claim that said entity was Airy's sister whilst others firmly maintain that said entity was none other than the player themselves, assuming the identity of a being from another dimension. The debate is still ongoing and no satisfying solution has been found to this riddle so far.

My own conclusion regarding the exact nature of the events unfolding in Bravely Default discards the two aforementioned options to focus on a third way that was never seriously pondered by the game's aficionados—at least not to the best of my knowledge. That conclusion is based on a bold premise: although everybody assumed that it was the case, absolutely nothing tells us that Tiz was the sole party member to be possessed by an entity. My conclusion goes as such: Tiz was indeed possessed by Airy's sister, whilst the player was taking control of none other than Agnès.

Yes, Agnès. The crystal Vestal herself. Although this theory may seem ludicrous at first sight, there are actually a lot of elements that support it in the game itself. Here are my five proofs that the player does in fact possess Agnès:

Proof#1: It may seem like I'm stating the obvious, but Agnès is the true main character of Bravely Default. She's featured prominently in the game's official art—including the European cover of the game, which shows her in the foreground—and the game's story revolves around her quest to reawaken the Crystals. Tiz may be the first party member to be introduced, but he joins Agnès in her mission, not the opposite. Since she's the main character, it only makes sense that the player should possess her rather than one of her sidekicks. 

Proof#2: The opening AR sequence shows Agnès begging us, the player, to intervene in order to save the world. Since she's the one who's begging and since the world's rescue is directly tied to the Crystals that are in her care, it makes considerably more sense that the being from another dimension incarnated by the player should choose to possess her body in order to lend a hand in saving the world rather than the body of a random boy who has no link whatsoever with the Crystals. Now, one could argue that the AR movie closes with Agnès uttering the words "become my Warrior of Light", which obviously refers to another person who's very likely Tiz; however, this was "added in translation", so to speak. The original Japanese text ends a bit differently, with Agnès begging you to save the world "as a Warrior of Light" ("Anata ga Hikari no Senshi to shite"). Not her Warrior; a Warrior. And since all four party members are referred to as "Warriors of Light" throughout the game, this term can technically apply to every one of them—including Agnès herself. Moreover, it's worth noting that Agnès is the only party member who interacts with us during her AR sequence. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Proof#3: Airy's sister appears only at the very beginning and at the very end. The question is: where is she in the meantime? If she wants to save the world that badly, to the point of recruiting the player, then surely she should lend a hand with that paramount enterprise, right? This apparent contradiction evaporates as soon as one postulates that Airy's sister does indeed lend a hand, using Tiz as her vehicle whilst the player uses Agnès as theirs. It only makes sense that Airy's sister should monitor the party's progression and take an active part in saving the world rather than leave such an important business in the hands of a random being from another dimension, be they genuinely motivated to help. Moreover, the way she talks to the player during the closing sequence suggests that she knows exactly what transpired and that herself and said player have been performing a collaborative work, which implies that she must have been around rather than hidden away.

Proof#4: During the final fight, Ouroboros dons Tiz' form and addresses him, claiming that a celestial lurks within him. One could easily assume that said celestial is the player; however, Ouroboros describes the celestial realm as "prosperous, full of love, beneficent, reverential and orderly" and adds that "it knows no war or strife". That description can hardly apply to our world, which means that the celestial must be someone else than the player. (On top of that, the idea that Ouroboros could want to destroy our world is totally absurd and would fall flat in the most pathetic way.) It makes sense to assume that the celestial is Airy's sister, all the more so as the nature and origin of the Crystal Fairies is never precised in the game; Airy serves Ouroboros, but nothing prevents her from being a celestial. And if Airy's sister occupies Tiz' body, then the player must be hosted by another party member—i.e. Agnès.

Proof#5: A.k.a. the ultimate proof: the possession of Agnès by the player is totally and utterly consistent with the events unfolding in the game's alternate ending. Not only does the uninterrupted pressing of the x button correspond to an in-game action performed by Agnès, i.e. the injection of energy into the Crystal, but the rest of the crew states in no uncertain terms that they will align with Agnès' decisions and support her actions. Tiz being the party member possessed by the player would totally undermine the importance of that alternate ending and create a massive contradiction: it would make no sense at all that the game's supreme gift of free will to the player would be performed by another character than the one supposedly possessed by said player. Moreover, this argument can be expanded to all the rituals of awakening performed on the Crystals throughout the game: the player is one with Agnès during these phases and is very literally lending their energy to her by pressing the x button. If Agnès is channeling us during the rituals of awakening, then it only makes sense to assume that she's doing so at all times.

Proofs aside, this theory can very conveniently explain and justify a lot of elements in Bravely Default—on top of reconciling both theories regarding who exactly possesses Tiz. For instance, Tiz being so eager to follow Agnès in her quest barely five minutes after meeting her can be justified by RPG conventions for sure, but also by the fact that Airy's sister is possessing him and prompting him to act that way. This theory also nicely explains why both Tiz and Agnès are considerably more transparent than Edea and Ringabel personality-wise: that's because they are vessels of other beings and as such, a part of their personality is suppressed. Of course, it doesn't solve every single contradiction lurking in Bravely Default's story; however, most of these contradictions are inherent to the use of the "meta" theme. Meta is just like Time Travel: it looks like a perfect concept bound to give birth to thrilling developments on paper, but it's basically impossible to include it in a story without generating a milling mass of paradoxes and plotholes. In Bravely Default, the main paradox is the imperfect inclusion of the player in the game: on one hand, we are supposed to inhabit one of the party members' body, but on the other hand, we are at times required to take control of other party members and we generally have to perform plenty of actions as a fully external player aware that they are playing a game—like saving, watching cutscenes, changing the party members' order and equipment, choosing actions for all characters in battle and so on. The meta-isation of the story is incomplete, so to speak, and is bound to remain so no matter which party member the player is actually possessing.

I like to imagine that this setting was designed as an Easter Egg of sorts, a plot twist that can only be uncovered through a minute examination of the game's story. Of course, I could also be completely wrong; but I fancy thinking I'm right on this one. The proofs are here, and let's be honest: the idea of being hosted by the authentic main character of Bravely Default is indoubtedly more alluring than the idea of playing second fiddle into one of her sidekicks. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!