World of Final Fantasy: Thanks, but no thanks

And yet another Square Enix RPG that I won't buy. You know, I'm starting to think that the issue may be that I actually don't like Square Enix' current style. The only recent Square Enix games I truly adored were Dragon Quest IX and Bravely Default; everything else has been either a lukewarm experience or an instant hate affair. So maybe I'm simply going to write off Square Enix and stop purchasing their games altogether.

Anyway, I'll keep this post mercifully short. I hated the little I've played of World of Final Fantasy and I certainly won't purchase it. To sum it up, the graphics are lacklustre and the game world is totally devoid of charm, battles are painfully slow and tedious, the camera moves make me nauseous and last but not least, it's a crappy Pokemon rip-off. Square Enix' pilfering of other successful gaming formulas is still going on full force, and it seems that this is indeed their new way of creating games.

Well, I certainly won't support that. Square Enix may be a powerhouse and a gaming legend, but past glory can only carry you on for so long. I don't care how great a developer's resumé is; if their current games don't please me, then I won't invest in them. I did love both Square and Enix RPGs in the past; but in my humble opinion, what they produce nowadays is utter crap. Now I seriously dread playing my newly purchased copy of Dragon Quest VII and having to face yet another disappointment. But hey, what's bought is bought! At least, I avoided spending money on WoFF.

Now I'm going to dig up a funny and light-hearted game to play next, because I really need to relax and unwind after my recent lukewarm gaming experiences. I'll see you soon with more gaming goodness, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

Criminal Girls 2: I've had enough

I just erased my CG2 save file and boy, am I relieved. I just can't play that game anymore.

The last straw was yet another Wake-Up Call Boss that would have needed insane amounts of level-grinding, strategizing and patience to be overcome. I already grinded like crazy to beat Shadow Tsukasa and a couple of other wake-up call bosses before her, and I'm just sick of it. I managed to get used to the unbalanced field battles, but these cheated bosses are just ruining my fun.

On top of being sick to death of unfair boss battles, I feel like I've seen enough of the game to quit now. All the girls have been rehabilitated and Knighted, so my job as a Program Instructor is done. I don't care that much about whatever final boss may come after that, nor do I care about the unavoidable harem ending and the post-game segment that will let me recruit Enri and fight yet another super-cheated boss. I'll just watch the ending(s) on Youtube and call it a day, thanks a lot.

Still, there's no denying that I would still be playing if not for the game's horrendous fake difficulty and lack of balance. The girls' interactions are intense and gripping and they are all interesting characters despite being copy-pastes of CGIO's cast, and I would have liked to spend more time with them—all the more so as their Knight outfits are stunningly gorgeous. But hey, the gaming instinct wants what it wants, and it says that more grinding and cheated bosses are out of the question.

And so I comply. I'm leaving CG2 to roam greener pastures, starting with the demo of World of Final Fantasy that I downloaded a couple of days ago. Let's see if Square's newest offering will be a gem or a turd! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Criminal Girls 2: Deja vu

Let's not beat around the bush, dear fellow gamers: Criminal Girls 2, or CG2 for short, is a carbon copy of its predecessor Criminal Girls: Invite Only. Not only does it sports the exact same gameplay, but it also proudly features the exact same dungeons so far (albeit redrawn), the exact same "motivation" minigames (albeit slightly more sophisticated) and last but not least, the exact same cast of foes (without albeit: they were virtually lifted straight from CGIO). The only brand-new feature is the cast of characters, their backstories and the saucy scenes that go along with themalthough then again, we're not exactly dealing with genuine novelties there. All the girls are blatantly inspired by their CGIO counterparts, be it in terms of looks, personality and demeanor: Chloe is a virtual copy-paste of Alice, Tsukasa of Ran, Yurine of Tomoe and so on. (It was actually quite entertaining to tie each CG2 girl with her respective CGIO inspiration.) Anyway, you get the picture: CG2 is basically CGIO with revamped art, a new yet familiar cast and ramped-up fan-service. Which in theory is totally fine by me, since I really don't mind treading on familiar ground when it comes to beloved gaming formulas.

In practice, things are a bit more complicated. I'd like to claim that I fell head over heels for CG2 just like I did with CGIO and that I'm having tons and tons of fun playing it; but unfortunately, the reality is quite different. While I'm having a decent amount of fun with CG2, I'm far from being glued to it and I deem it quite inferior to its predecessor. This is due to a sole reason that jumped out at me as soon as I started my playthrough: CG2 is unreasonably hard. We're not talking about the "challenging" kind of hard there, but rather about the "tedious" type of hardthe one that generates eyerolls, exasperated sighs and ragequits. I was visibly not the only one being put off by CG2's excessive difficulty, since a so-called "casual" patch was made available for the Japanese version. This patch was added to the Western version, and I switched to Casual mode after a mere couple of minutes because playing on Normal mode was an absolute chore. Not that it changed my fortunes wildly, mind you: the only difference between Normal and Casual mode is that foes hit slightly less hard on the latter, but everything else is left untouched. Brace yourselves, this is how CG2 rolls when it comes to difficulty:

—All foes have ridiculously high defense, coupled with a ridiculous amount of HP. They are also several steps ahead of the girls by default, with better skills that the girls often cannot prevent or counteract. As a result, all battles tend to be painfully slow and tedious. Even the meanest field enemy takes several turns to die and can inflict ugly status effects on the whole party long before the items or skills that can cure said status effects have been uncovered. As for the bosses, they are so cheated that it's not even funny. They are always lightyears ahead of the poor girls, with better stats, better skills and literally twenty times more HP. Beating bosses in CG2 requires all at once pre-battle grinding, strategizing, luck and a treasure trove of patience, and having all that doesn't even guarantee that you won't die after twenty-five minutes of arduous fighting. Battles in CGIO were stimulating and challenging affairs that flowed smoothly; battles in CG2, on the other end, feel like painful interruptions that take way too long to be resolved. In a nutshell, what we have here is a serious case of The computer is a cheating bastard.

—The girls' suggestions in battle are often off the mark, especially when compared to CGIO. I've lost count of the number of times when all girls pull out their most powerful skills to dispose of a mere field enemy or coyly offer regular attacks when fighting a boss. They are also quite reluctant to suggest buffs and debuffs, which doesn't make boss battles any easier. This definitely qualifies as fake difficulty because of Artificial Stupidity.

—The "Motivation" minigames have been made unnecessarily fussy and are now bristling with confusing instructions and complicated control schemes, which leads to fake difficulty because of Some Dexterity Required. Not only are they often tedious to play, but they don't allow for much clumsiness, unlike their CGIO counterparts. This means a higher failure rate, which means less XP gained, which means more grinding to gain CM points, which means more slow battles. Now that's the fake longevity cherry on top of the fake difficulty cake.

You get the picture, dear fellow gamers: we have a big fat case of fake difficulty here, and it takes away a good chunk of the player's rightful enjoyment. Granted, I've already given praise to games that were choke-full with fake difficulty, such as Astonishia Story; so why am I so finicky all of a sudden, you may ask? Well, it's all a matter of expectations. While I fully expect a retro-ish game like AS to be unreasonably and unfairly difficult, I expect a fan-servicy game like CG2 to boast a light-hearted, easy-going and fun gameplay that complements its sassy overtone. I do NOT want to grind in a fan-servicy game, nor do I want to spend half an hour fighting a non-final boss. I don't know which point Nippon Ichi Software were trying to make by delivering such an unforgiving gameplay, but the outcome doesn't sit well with me. Now that I think of it, maybe they are actually taking the piss out of the player: you come here to indulge in SM fare with helpless girls and you end up being roughed up by the game—what goes around comes around, karma's a b*tch and all that, you know. That would sure be a brilliant display of irony, but that wouldn't make the fake difficulty easier to swallow. I've come very close to rage-quitting a couple of times, and I'm not sure I will be able to clear my current playthrough of CG2: I started playing it to get a break from Rainbow "grindy" Moon, and fake difficulty and drawn-out boss battles that requires metric tons of level-grinding to be overcome are not exactly what I signed for. Oh, well. The gaming instinct will decide, as always! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Rainbow Moon: On hold

After 50 hours of play, I'm taking my first official break from Rainbow Moon. The break I took some time ago to try out Dragon Quest Builders was a mere intermission that hardly lasted a day; this time, I'm planning to stay away from the game much longer. Although I still love Rainbow Moon dearly, there's no denying that I'm starting to feel a teeny-weeny bit of grinding fatigue. I'd rather wisely take a break from the game now and come back to it later than soldier on and end up vomiting the whole thing. After such elating beginnings, such an outcome would be quite a pity and a shame indeed.

This break is also partly fuelled by my trip abroad. Not only did that trip broke my grindy Rainbow Moon routine, making it kind of hard to hop back on the grinding treadmill once I came back home, but it gave me the opportunity to amass some absolutely glorious gaming loot. I found no less than five recent releases in a single shop—including three Vita games, of all things! And we're not talking about just any Vita games, dear fellow gamers: this trio of acquisitions includes Criminal Girls 2 and Valkyrie Drive, two games I never expected to find in shops in a million years. Well, not only were they here and ready for the looting, but they were also proudly advertised as the top-selling games of the moment. Looks like there's still some life in the Vita after all! At any rate, it's been years—if not decades—since I was able to purchase that many games in a brick and mortar store, and my elation is so intense that I literally want to play them all right now.

The gaming instinct wants what it wants, and that's why Rainbow Moon must take a backseat while other contenders are taking center stage. I can already tell you that after much inner debate, Criminal Girls 2 is the game I elected to grace my Vita slot these next days. Time to indulge in another sort of grinding! That being said, I'm still very much planning to write about Rainbow Moon, and that promised list of the things I love in the game is still very much in the pipeline. See you soon for more gaming goodness, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Rainbow Moon: An exhaustive list of the things I don't like

43 hours, level 40. My Baldren Solo Run—because yes, I'm now officially luxuriating in a Baldren Solo Run, without fear of jinxing the game by being too bold—is going stronger than ever and treating me to tons and tons of fun. I was afraid I had been too cocky a couple of hours ago, when I hit a difficulty spike of sorts upon entering Shadow Wall Mountains and found myself roughed up by local foes; fortunately, a bit of grinding and a couple of extra levels took care of that issue neatly and smoothly. Rainbow Moon is undoubtedly the type of game in which a few levels makes a huge difference—which makes total sense, since levels are so hard to gain to begin with. Anyway, after pimping up my little Baldren with overpowered gear, feeding him every single stat-increasing items I found and boosting his stats with Rainbow Pearls, I've reached a point where I'm virtually unstoppable and can single-handedly dispose of trash mobs as well as bosses without breaking a sweat. I also curbed my roaring obsession with the game to more manageable levels, and I don't feel anymore like my heart is being ripped out when I lay down my Vita.

In a nutshell, everything is fine and dandy and I'm enjoying myself tremendously. I'm actually planning to write a massive list of all the things I like in Rainbow Moon; but first, I want to get the few things I don't like so much about the game out of the way so as to keep le meilleur pour la fin, as they say in France. Without further ado, here are the Rainbow Moon features that I would gladly do without:

—No stackable items and no automatic item sortering in the inventory: items just pile up as they come, with no rhyme or reason whatsoever. There is an semi-automatic sortering option that even lets you choose the type of sortering you want—by name, type and so on—but it has to be activated manually from the inventory menu and reactivated every time you get some new stuff. Tedious doesn't even begin to describe how annoying this is, especially in a game so rich in loot.

—Battles can't be sped up and battle animations can't be skipped at all. Being the grindy game par excellence, Rainbow Moon would really, really need both of these options. I fortunately got used to the long, drawn-out battles over time and even came to appreciate them to some extent; but that doesn't change the fact that Rainbow Moon forces the player to spend waaaaay too much time watching friends and foes do their thing and strut their stuff. I really hope SideQuest Studio will fix this issue in the upcoming Rainbow Skies and mercifully allow players to indulge in faster battles.

—The hunger factor. To be fair, I don't really dislike it; a part of me even appreciate this throwback to classic rogueliking. But one must admit that apart from paying homage to a 35-years-old gaming subgenre, the hunger factor serves no purpose at all in Rainbow Moon—apart from needlessly cluttering your already tight inventory, that is. The whole hunger thing is designed to keep you on your toes in roguelikes, and it works beautifully; but it makes absolutely no sense to implement a hunger factor in a game where food can be purchased every ten meters and found in harvesting points on a regular basis.

—Allies. Now, your mileage may vary on that one, but I found extra party members to be giant liabilities. The whole game is designed to accommodate a single character, from the size of the inventory to the Rainbow Pearls feature to the story itself (a man stranded in a foreign world trying to go back home, locked up in an endless pursuit of his nemesis), so why throw extra characters into the mix? They make battles a nightmarish slog, they are a chore to manage from the menu, they must be protected like fragile sprouts during their levelling-up process, they eat up your precious food and monetary resources and, last but not least, they ruin the glorious feeling of being a lone ranger in a unknown world. Sure, I do not doubt that they bring some variety to the gameplay if you can tolerate all these inconveniences; but there were other ways to achieve that goal. Give Baldren more skills, more weapons or even the possibility to change classes, but don't bother me with extra characters that requires tons of pampering. And if extra party members are required for safely navigating postgame territory like it's the case in some games, then let me recruit them in postgame—and properly levelled-up while you're at it. Don't just drag down my whole main game experience with those boulders when I can just as smoothly run solo.

—The dungeons are all a bit samey. This didn't bother me so much in the early stages, when dungeons were few and far between; but now that they are getting larger and more abundant, I would like to see a bit more variety when it comes to dungeon design and decoration.

I'm so far behind on my HP that it's not even funny.
—Boosting up HP in the Attribute Shop requires a ludicrous number of Rainbow Pearls. We're talking about 15 Pearls for each extra point, and that's 10 or 12 too many given how much extra HP is available. Granted, this mountain of complimentary HP is by no means necessary to progress smoothly, but it's galling to be unable to get my greedy paws on it without an insane amount of Pearl farming. My theory is that this absurd situation is the result of a glitch or an oversight by the developers, who may have initially planned to implement less extra HP or to make each point cost less Pearls.

That's the entirety of the things I don't like in Rainbow Moon so far; and as you can see, there are quite few of them and none of them are deal-breakers. Mark my words, my upcoming list of the things I like in Rainbow Moon is going to be much longer than that. It's going to have to wait a tad longer though, because I'm holydaying abroad for a couple of days starting tomorrow. I'll come back with a refreshed mind and (fingers crossed) some good gaming loot! Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Dragon Quest Builders Demo: Not my cup of tea

There are some developers/publishers out there whose RPG offerings I can purchase blindly, knowing that I will always enjoy them. These luminaries of mine include Nihon Falcom, Sting, Compile Heart and a few others that never failed to satisfy me with their awesome RPGs. Powerhouse Square Enix, on the other hand, is not part of that list of gaming happiness purveyors. In my personal ranking, their RPGs range anywhere from cult classic (Dragon Quest IX) to abject failure (Adventures of Mana) and everything in between (Final Fantasy Explorers). There is basically no guarantee of satisfaction with Square Enix as far as I'm concerned; their RPGs can enthrall me just as readily as disappoint me. In an effort to preserve my bank account and spare myself some disappointment, I decided lately to do some thorough checking before purchasing any Square Enix RPG instead of blindly jumping on them like I used to do. I applied that brand-new treatment to Dragon Quest Builders, whose demo was released on the PSN lately, to figure out if that Dragon Quest spin-off was worth a spot in my precious collection.

It turns out that the answer is no, which makes me glad I've given a try to that demo. DQB didn't click with me at all, leaving me bored stiff after a mere hour of play. Here are the main points that bothered me during that time:

—The graphics are unappealing. While Minecraft's graphics have some sort of pixelated, low-fi charm, DQB's graphics just look like your average phone game graphics. It doesn't help that the colour palette is dull and washed-out. I expected to find some Dragon Quest graphical touch at work there, but the sad truth is that there is no visual reminder of the series apart from a couple of slimes fooling around and an avatar with distinctly Toriyama-esque features.

—Too much camera fiddling. Any game that actually requires me to control and manually orient the camera is a no-go, so DQB is more or less doomed from the start.

—The controls are messy and lack precision. Now, this may be due to the fact that I'm not familiar with building games à la Minecraft, but I found incredibly hard to position blocks properly—despite the outlines kindly provided by the game. A big part of this issue can be blamed on the fact that the analog stick doesn't allow for precise positioning; and while I'm sure that it's possible to get the hang of that positioning thing with practice, my first frustrating steps with it didn't exactly encourage me to persevere. To make matters worse, I don't like the menu interface at all and I find the commands really confusing.

On a more fundamental level, it turns out that I'm not fond of the whole building thing. Building games invariably failed to enrapture me when I was a kid, and it seems that this lack of interest is still alive and well. While playing this DQB demo, I realised that the prospect of erecting huge structures didn't thrill me in the slightest; as a matter of fact, it sounded much more like a genuine chore to my ears. The conclusion is unplacable: Dragon Quest Builders is not a game for me, and thus it won't join my precious collection. That makes more room and money for another game, and that's great.

On a more general note, playing that demo makes me wonder about Square Enix's policies of late. It seems that their main gaming formula these days consists in ripping off a successful gameplay style and slapping a heavy-duty layer of in-house fan service on top of it. Final Fantasy Explorers was basically Monster Hunter with a shiny Final Fantasy varnish, and DQB is Minecraft with a Dragon Quest sugar-coating. The upcoming FFVII remake seems to be borrowing heavily from the Telltale Games formula, and I just wonder: is this their new way of creating games? Are they just content with milking off their famous franchises while borrowing gameplay styles they didn't create and tweaking them ever-so-slightly? If they've really come down to this, that's a little bit sad—but hey, whatever floats their boat.

At any rate, my thorough checking plan worked perfectly, and I firmly intend to apply the same treatment to the upcoming World of Final Fantasy. I've lost all excitement for that game after my recent string of disappointements with Square Enix RPGs, and it will have to prove really stellar to deserve a place in my precious collection and not share DQB's fate. And now, I'm diving back full force into my beloved Rainbow Moon. We were not apart for long, now were we? Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Rainbow Moon: Even more grinding heaven

Although I've been playing for twenty hours now, it still feels like I'm in the early stages of the game, if not the very early stages. My little Baldren still boasts nothing more than a measly Lv.18, while I've caught a glimpse of Lv.800 (eight hundred) enemies in one of the dungeons I visited lately. (For the record, said Lv.800 foes were secluded behind a locked door, which was quite a relief. The mere sight of the number 800 hovering over their heads was enough to give me chills, I swear.) Not that this bothers me, mind you: I relish the slow pace of my Rainbow Moon saga and I firmly plan to enjoy every minute of that exquisite trip.

It should surprise no one that I'm running solo, sticking to my little Baldren while letting other potential allies bite the dust to keep them conveniently out of my party. The flow of battles is ten times more comfortable and swifter with a single character, all the more so as recruited allies are usually underlevelled and must be carefully protected during the, oh, first dozens of battles they engage in after joining your crew. But really, the main reason why I don't want to deal with extra units are the Rainbow Pearls. My precious, awesome Rainbow Pearls, which I greedily want to keep for my little Baldren and not share with anyone else. See, Rainbow Pearls can be used to raise up stats beyond the average level increases, and such boosting is basically the key to stay ahead of the enemy mass at all times. Each foe drops one Pearl (two on Moon Days) and only the character that gives the final blow to a foe can harvest the resulting Pearl. Do you see the problem here? If I fight with other units, I will have to share Pearls with them, and stingy, greedy little me doesn't want to do that. At all. All must go to Baldren, period.

And why wouldn't it go to my dear little Baldren? This guy is awesome and does a great job on the battlefield. He's conveniently standing halfway between the physical and magical types, his stats are perfectly balanced, his attack ranges are varied and useful, his special skills are wide-ranging and powerful and last but not least, he eats like a bird. Seriously, he can roam for days surviving on mere carrots, apples and water bottles. What an awesome metabolism, at least for the player that controls him! That's certainly better than ever-hungry Dozeru. (I could feel something was fishy with this guy when the quest to recruit him required me to purchase large amounts of nourishing food.) That being said, even though I'm planning to stick with Baldren to the bitter end, I am still fulfilling recruiting quests and stacking up allies, if only because these quests are entertaining. And who knows, I may stumble upon a roadblock later in the game and be in dire need of some extra units. Or I may unearth a totally awesome overpowered character that makes me forget about Baldren on the spot, although I'm not counting too much on that. My little Baldren is starting to show signs of over-levelling, and this condition is only bound to increase in intensity as I keep running solo. But as usual, let's play and see.

Or let's not, actually, because I'm currently taking a small break from Rainbow Moon. This is not due to the fact that I'm growing tired or bored of it, but rather to the exact opposite. My obsession with this game is growing stronger by the hour, and it makes me do really strange things. Not only did I overcome the tiredness that used to grip me after one hour of play, but I'm now finding myself playing for three or four hours at a time, even when I merely intend to play for thirty minutes. The other day I was playing until 3 A.M., and I wanted to play more despite being exhausted! I also find myself wanting to get up and snatch a play session while I'm in bed and trying to fall asleep; the last time this happened to me was after purchasing my Megadrive in the mid-90s, and I'm not too sure I relish that throwback to my teenage years. Oh, and the game's music is looping in my head more or less all around the clock, obviously. This is all a bit overwhelming, and I feel a break is in order to digest all these feelings and reduce my obsession with Rainbow Moon to a more manageable level.

In the meantime, I'm going to indulge in the free demo of Dragon Quest Builders, which I just dowloaded from the PSN. I'm very much on the fence regarding that game, having never played any building and crafting game à la Minecraft before; and this demo comes just at the right time to help me decide whether to purchase DQB or not. I'll see you later for a post about my impressions of that demo, dear fellow gamers, after which I'll dive back senselessly into Rainbow Moon. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!