30/03/2017

Super Mario Land: It's VERY complicated


After having replayed Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle, I was in the mood for a retro rampage and decided to take a trip even further down memory lane by replaying The Game That Started It All: Super Mario Land, a.k.a. The First Video Game I Ever Purchased. I was an industrious kid and saved my pocket money on a regular basis, and that's how I was able to purchase a brand-new copy of SML very quickly after getting my Game Boy, saving myself from an dreary Tetris diet in the process. I cannot remember why I picked up that particular game, but I'd reckon that it was both because it was wildly advertised and because it was one of the very few Game Boy games available at the time. I didn't know what to expect from SML, but I sure hoped for the best. Alas, the best didn't come.

I'll be blunt: I don't like Super Mario Land at all. Right from the start, I had this tormented, twisted and passionate relationship with it: I loathed it, and yet it lured me in time and time again. The reason for these intense feelings was pretty simple: SML was way too hard for me back then, missing the challenging mark by a couple of miles and landing straight on the infuriating mark. My father would regularly comment on the fact that I was ridiculously riled up when playing that game, that my face was so flushed he thought I was having a heart attack and that I'd better go outside to get a breath of fresh air; and mind you, I did just that more often than not. On top of introducing me to dedicated portable gaming, SML introduced me to the concept of ragequitting. I spent weeks stuck in front of King Totomesu and felt the crush of despair when fake Princess Daisy turned into a disgusting giant fly, I fell over and over again in the millions of bottomless pits littering the game, I cried tears of blood in the Chinese levels; and the only time I actually managed to reach final boss Tatanga hanging onto my last life, my nerves were so frayed that I couldn't make a move and died on its first fireball. SML required a level of platforming skill that I couldn't muster at the time, and thus it ended up being a torture tool to young little me. To make matters worse, my father was adamant that I polished off the game entirely before purchasing a second one and was hardly swayed by my teary-eyed protests that SML was just too difficult and frustrating; and while that logic made perfect sense from a parenting point of view, it was utterly absurd from my burgeoning gamer's perspective. Games were supposed to be fun, so why wasn't I allowed to ditch a game that not only failed to entertain me, but irritated me to no end every time I picked it up? But my father had the power and the car that could drive me to the toy shop standing in the next town, and thus I had to abide by his rules and spend a couple of extra weeks toiling on SML and enduring its sloppy and slippery physics, its nerve-racking boss theme and its insanely demanding platforming.

Interestingly, while SML was overall a nightmarish experience for young little me, it absolutely didn't put me off gaming. On the contrary, it made me more eager than ever to tackle new games; and I think that's a testament to the vibrancy and intensity of my love for gaming. I was a yound kid, and gaming could have been just one of the many fads I embraced before ditching them without a second though; but this was something deeper and more serious, and I probably felt it at the time, if only confusely. And there I am, 27 seven years later, replaying SML and polishing it off in less than half an hour. Things sure have come a long way when it comes to my platforming abilities; but amazingly, replaying SML with a complete mastery of the gameplay was still not a pleasant experience. In fact, I felt the exact same mix of frustration, restlessness and emptiness I used to feel when I played SML as a kid, and I was so dispirited at the end of my short playthrough that I seriously considered selling my cartridge or even throwing it away. Heck, I'm still considering it.

If SML didn't me make me steer clear of video games as a whole, it sure made me steer clear of the Super Mario series. And yes, I'm aware that SML is not a true blue Super Mario game, having been developed by Gunpei Yokoi instead of Shigeru Miyamoto; and that's precisely why I decided to give the series a second chance by purchasing and playing New Super Mario Bros on the DS. Did I love it? Nope, not more than its Game Boy ancestor. Well, I guess my heart just belongs to Sonic after all.

In the end, my relationship with SML is still pretty complicated to this day. This was my very first game, and I have to acknowledge its importance and meaning in my gaming career; but on the other hand, I really don't like that game and don't think I ever will. So I'll probably put it to rest one way or another and wisely abstain from ever touching it again. Bad gaming memories are better left undisturbed, all the more so in a present that's brimming with fulfilling gaming experiences. I'd be curious to know what your very first game was and if it was a lacklustre experience or an amazing one, dear fellow gamers; so feel free to let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

25/03/2017

Pokemon Sun: A Nuzlocke solo run ( a.k.a. the Toucannon Solo Run )


A.k.a. The Run That Opened Even More Avenues For Future Solo Runs. It all started with Sieg's innocent question in a comment: "Will you ever try out a Nuzlocke Challenge?" My first impulse was to answer that there was no way I'd ever go back to playing party runs in Pokemon and that as a result, the probability of me ever tackling a Nuzlocke challenge was virtually inexistent. But then I paused and asked myself: could there be a way to tweak Nuzlocke rules in order to make them work for a solo run? My interest was seriously piqued; and before I knew it, I had devised my own solo run version of the Nuzlocke Challenge, which goes as such:

  • The solo run must be attempted with the first 'Mon captured in the very first patch of grass on Route 1. If recruitment fail during the first encounter, it has to be performed during the second encounter and so on until it succeeds, without moving from the first patch of grass. 
  • The whole run must be 100% solo, with no other 'Mon in the team. A 'Mon can be recruited only for mandatory Double Battles and must be released immediately after. 
  • As a consequence of the aforementioned rule, the use of Revives is strictly forbidden. 
  • No healing in Pokemon Centres. 

I was seriously pondering if I should treat fainting as death, but I decided to shelve that rule for another Nuzlocke solo run (because indeed, there will be more of these). What I wanted to achieve with that very first attempt was what I would dub a "Route 1 Crappy 'Mon Solo Run". Let's face it, dear fellow gamers: none of us has any sort of respect or even consideration for Route 1 'Mons. They are used as convenient training fodder to level up our Starter before the first Gym, and we capture them solely to fill up our Pokedex. And when we keep them in our team for more than five minutes instead of sending them straight to the PC, it's usually for the sole purpose of padding said team before better and cooler 'Mons become available. In a nutshell, Route 1 'Mons are universally viewed as the very embodiment of genericness and mediocrity  in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if dictionaries featured a picture of Rattata along the definitions of these two words. And because they are so widely sniffed at, I was curious to see for myself if they could be decent solo run material.

Let me tell you: the Pikipek Solo Run that ensued single-handedly changed my opinion of Route 1 'Mons forever. I now have the uttermost respect for these often overlooked creatures, and never again will I look down on them and discard them as mere training fodder and Pokedex fillers.

That being said, it took some time to get there. I was none too happy with my new recrue at first: Pikipek looks like your generic Flying 'Mon, the kind you've seen a million times before in Pokemon games. His middle form left me even more unimpressed: not only is it just as generic as his initial form, but it's quite ungracious to boot. But when Pikipek's ultimate form appeared before my hopeful eyes, I had a total change of heart and fell in love with that form on the spot. Mean-looking Toucannon is just positively hilarious, with his giant colourful beak and evil eye; and I couldn't help but run to the Name Rater and change his name to "Big B". I had to! Toucannon is hands down one of my favourite final evolutions in Sun and Moon so far, and cruising Alola with him was an absolute delight.

Looks are all well and good, but how did Pikipek & evolutions fare when it comes to fighting? Well, that was the biggest surprise there and the reason for my newfound respect for his kind: this banal, innocuous Route 1 'Mon absolutely rocks on the battlefield. He's an absolute powerhouse, with perfectly balanced overall stats and an Attack Stat as high as the Everest. Interestingly, while Pikipek and middle evolution Trumbeak also boast really high Speed, the Speed Stat takes a dive when the ultimate evolutionary threshold is crossed, leaving Toucannon with a surprisingly poor Speed Stat. (This was not a hindrance in my solo run, though; by the time Toucannon took center stage, he was so ovelevelled that he still got to act first in 95% of fights.) Unlike his avian cousin Oricorio, Toucannon boasts a really neat and varied offensive Move pool brimming with Physical Moves that take full advantage of his sky-high Attack. Normal, Fighting, Flying, Grass, Fire, Steel, Bug, Rock Moves: you name them, the big-beaked bird can learn them and unleash them on the battlefield with style. For the record, my final Move pool comprised Toucannon's signature Move Beak Blast (Flying), Bullet Seed (Grass), Thief (Dark) and Brick Break (Fighting), and that Move quartet had me covered in pretty much all battle situations. Cherry on the cake, my Toucannon had the Keen Eye Ability, which meant no Accuracy reduction on the battlefield; and gosh, did this come in handy more than once.

So indeed, this was a great run that pulverized all my expectations regarding Route 1 'Mons. The next step is to tackle a Nuzlocke solo run that includes the rule "Fainting = Death & Release", because such a run could be wildly interesting as well: it could involve recruiting and training several 'Mons over the course of the run, which would allow me to cruise solo with unlikely solo run candidates. Now that I think of it, I don't even need to wait for my 'Mon to faint: I can decide beforehand to release my 'Mon at some point and continue my run with a freshly recuited 'Mon. Gosh, now I have even more ideas for potential Nuzlockey solo runs. A brand-new world of Pokemon goodness opened right in front of my eyes, and I'm going to enjoy it to the fullest. Not right now, though: after six Pokemon solo runs in a row, I need to take a break from the series in general and from Sun and Moon in particular. But I'll be back, and probably sooner than later: I still have to tackle a Popplio solo run, and I love Alola so much that I'll be drawn back to it eventually. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

20/03/2017

Tales of Phantasia: See you, so long, goodbye, hooray


Now's the time to reveal my feelings about Tales of Phantasia, and said feelings can be summed up in one short sentence: I love that game. I love it so much that it can claim the honour of being my favourite Tales entry so far. I love everything about that debut, from its retro aesthetics to its dreamy atmosphere, without forgetting its thrilling fighting system and unobstrusive story deliciously light on cutscenes. And the cast is by far the best I've seen on a Tales game: no whiny teenager, no hysterical loli, no overbearing big brother, but rather a dignified quartet intent on fulfilling a crucial mission. Sure, said crucial mission is by no means original, since we're talking about the meat and potatoes of all J-RPGs, i.e. Saving The Bloody World; but still, things are presented in a way that's pleasantly toned-down for a J-RPG and a Tales game  especially when compared to latter Tales entries and their distinctly hysterical storytelling.

So yes, I do love Tales of Phantasia. I love it so much that I would be hard-pressed to find a glaring flaw in that gem of a game; but if I had to nit-pick about something, that would probably be the fact that the random encounter rate is a trifle too high in dungeons and a trifle too low on the world map. I would have preferred to get either the opposite or a more balanced encounter rate overall  all the more so as dungeons are labyrinthine and bristling with puzzles, and it can be quite hard to keep track of what you're doing when you're interrupted every five seconds by a random battle. I could also mention the stiffness and slowness of the fighting system, which makes retaliation or escape impossible if you happen to be stuck in a bad pattern of enemies cornering and chain-hitting your team. But since it was a first try, I'll be lenient and forgive the fighting system's shortcomings, all the more so as it's quite efficient and entertaining overall.

I love Tales of Phantasia, I really do; and yet, I'm now dropping it after roughly 20 delightful hours of play. And the reason for this untimely defection is quite simple: I've had enough of it, in the most positive way possible. As a matter of fact, as far as my personal RPG clock is concerned, ToP should end right now, at the 20-or-so hour mark; this just feels like the perfect length for that game. Not only that, but I've explored the whole game world and I'm currently standing at the foot of the big baddie's castle, so now would be the absolute perfect time to wrap up that game. But we're talking about a Tales game there; and if my meagre experience in the Tales department is any indication, ToP simply cannot end in such an unfussy and straightforward way. There has to be a plot twist down the line, as well as a whole lot of detours and meanderings that will obviously involve backtracking. To confirm my growing suspicions that I was in fact far from being done with ToP, I checked an online walkthrough; and sure enough, it turned out that I had actually only cleared two thirds of the game. With that, my decision to quit was cemented, and I erased my save file to make sure that I wouldn't crawl back to the game in a moment of weakness. I'd rather stop playing while the game is still pleasant and restart a brand-new run if I feel the need to play it again; since I know what to do now, the early stages will flow faster and I can hopefully come considerably further, maybe all the way to the end of the game, before I start longing for closure.

Still, it amazes me to see that I always get that feeling that Tales games should wrap up and bid adieu around the 20-hour mark. In my opinion, these games seriously overstay their welcome and try to inflate their average play time by resorting to fake longevity tricks such as forced backtracking, time-sensitive side quests (which I never touch) and high random encounter rates in dungeons. The issue here is not the playing time per se  35 hours is a perfectly reasonable playing time for an RPG, and I've been pouring many more hours than that in many RPGs  but rather the fact that Tales games don't have the necessary resources to sustain such long playthroughs. They usually feature pretty small game worlds, which makes backtracking mandatory in order to stretch playing time beyond the 20-hour mark. Likewise, dungeons are quite tiny despite being mazy, so the random encounter rate must be cranked up to eleven to ensure that these dungeons last longer than five minutes. And last but not least, the fighting system is only skin-deep despite its steep learning curve. Once you've mastered the art of positioning your characters and timing your attacks, you're pretty much set; and the only thing you'll need to learn afterwards are the resident foes' move and attack patterns and the range of your new Skills. Basically, what you do during your very first battle in the Forest of Spirits is what you'll do throughout the whole game, only with flashier and more potent Skills. I genuinely love ToP's unique brand of fighting; but for all the flashiness of its name, it's hard to deny that the "Linear Motion Battle System" is definitely not deep enough to provide 35 to 50 hours of continuous enjoyment.

And so I'm quitting Tales of Phantasia before it becomes stale and aggravating; but I'll probably come back to it one day, if only because I enjoyed it so much. That being said, I wonder if there is a Tales entry out there that lasts less than twenty hours; if such a game indeed exists, then I would gladly get my paws on it, because a Tales entry that doesn't overstay its time and keeps things nice and short would most certainly be a blast to play as far as I'm concerned. Feel free to fill me in in you know anything about the matter, dear fellow gamers. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

16/03/2017

Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle: A snapshot of 1990 portable gaming


Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle was my second Game Boy game and saved me from a frustrating diet of Tetris and Super Mario Land, two games I only marginally enjoyed. BBCC, on the other hand, turned out to be one of my favourite Game Boy games, and I played it extensively until third game Ducktales came into the picture. It goes without saying that I purchased BBCC solely because of its ties with the Looney Tunes franchise, which was the cult classic cartoon series of my childhood; and being especially fond of ol' Bugs, any game that featured him as a hero was a must-buy. Little did I know at the time that the game had been designed with Roger Rabbit in mind and that my favourite carrot-munching rabbit was just a placeholder amongst many; but had I known it, it probably wouldn't have changed anything. Bugs Bunny as the star role or not, this game is one of my personal Game Boy cult classics; and after a whopping 25 years spent without touching it, I finally decided to play it again and see how it measured up to my pristine and perfect childhood memories.

Surprisingly, BBCC stood the test of time pretty well. I only wanted to clear a couple of levels before writing down a password and picking up the game later, but I found myself playing it for two hours straight without a shred of boredom, irritation or lassitude. Not only was playing BBCC genuinely fun, but it was also quite interesting from an historical point of view. BBCC was released in 1990, and it reflects faithfully the gaming trends of that very year; and yes, I'm zeroing on a single year there, because this was the time when the gaming industry took quantum leaps every passing year. And since BBCC was one of the very first Game Boy games, it also marks the beginning of dedicated portable gaming and is thus doubly fascinating.

So what does BBCC tell us about 1990 gaming in general and portable gaming in particular? Well, it first tells us that fake advertising was definitely a thing back in the days. It still is nowadays to some extent, obviously; but oh boy, is current fake advertising totally innocuous compared to its 1990 counterpart. See the cover art for that game? You have Bugs bouncing around with a milling mass of foes at his heels. That screams action, right? And the title! Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle: now that promises some insane gameplay, right? I mean, how can a game called like that, with a cover art like that and one of the looniest cast of characters ever created not be a frantic romp of epic proportions? Herm, maybe because the Game Boy wouldn't allow such a game to exist and run on its weak hardware? But nevermind that; fake advertising had to work its nasty magic on that game and make us believe we're purchasing an action-packed game when BBCC is anything but. Such underhand tricks were the meat and potatoes of gaming advertising back in the days, and that was probably a necessary evil; because let's be honest, no one would have purchased a game based on said game's real looks and performances. You really needed a whole lot of advertising polish to sell the dream and help people view games as more than just a bunch of crappy pixels.

Although BBCC is definitely not the frantic, action-packed game it masqueraded to be, it's still an excellent game with a really interesting gameplay. And that leads us to another characteristic of 1990 gaming, namely the fact that gaming genres and subgenres were not so finely determined back then. Nowadays, we tend to praise games that cross over genre boundaries and borrow gameplay elements from different genres; but such a thing was routine back then. Experimentation was the key word and developers were not afraid to try all sorts of new things; and that was all the truer in the burgeoning Game Boy scene, which provided the perfect terrain to tinker with gameplay formulas at a lower cost. BBCC's gameplay is a beautiful illustration of that open and daring state of mind. The game looks like a Platformer at first glance, but there is no jumping or platforming feat of any kind. It's not a pure Puzzle game either, because the presence of foes deadly to the touch and determined to have Bugs' hide creates some tension and trepidation that are usually absent from Puzzle games. I remember vividly that back in the days, BBCC was classified as a "Strategy" game, and maybe that's the aptest description for what is actually happening in that game. You're presented with a series of tableaux in which you must find a viable way to pick up all the carrots lying around while avoiding deadly enemies; isn't that the perfect embodiment of what "strategy" is about?

Then you have more random gameplay elements, such as the very pronounced Stealth flavour: more often that not, you have to avoid enemies and work your way around them rather than confront them. As a kid, I didn't perceive that Stealth dimension: I always went out of my way to eliminate as many foes as I could, making the game much harder than it needed to be in the process. I dare say that there is even a touch of Rogueliking in BBCC: the way you move Bugs around has a direct influence on the way enemy sprites move, and you can manipulate enemy movement to some extent. Starting a level by heading left can and will often have totally different consequences than starting the same level by heading right; and sometimes, heading in a certain direction at the beginning of a level is totally mandatory to clear said level, because it will set enemy movement a certain way and allow you to access areas that would be blocked by foes otherwise. Of course, like with so many games back in the days, it's hard to know if such a feature was fully intended by developers or if it was just the result of hardware limitations leading to programming oversights. That's the beauty of 1990 gaming: you could find ingenious ways to break games and relish in the thought that you were exploiting programming foibles to do things that were never planned by developers. We'll never know if Kemco actually wanted BBCC players to exploit enemy movement to their own benefit; but it works beautifully all the same.

When engrish ruled in games.
Last but not least comes the defining characteristic of 1990 gaming, especially in its burgeoning portable guise: while it took me several weeks to finish BBCC back in the days, the two hours I spent playing it a couple of days ago were enough to polish it off entirely. Indeed, 1990 games were short, and 1990 portable games were even shorter. While such games may have been considered poor investments, this was the norm back in the days, and everybody accepted it good-naturedly. Such paltry lengths would be unacceptable nowadays, in a gaming scene where even the meanest indie Platformer or Puzzle game packs more content than BBCC; and yet, I feel that short games are more rewarding than they may seem at first glance and should be granted a place in the current gaming landscape. Being able to polish off a game in one neat, clean go generates a feeling of completion and fulfillment that can't be emulated by longer games, no matter how tailored they are to short bursts of gameplay. I was deeply content when BBCC presented me with its final screen bristling with typos  another quirk of games of this era  and even somewhat relieved that I wouldn't have to pour more hours into the game. I'd like to get more of these gaming quickies in the current gaming scene, with the gentle price tags to match  all the more so as just like BBCC, such games tend to pack a lot of replay value.

All in all, replaying BBCC 25 years after I last touched it was a great experience: it aged surprisingly well and is still very much worth playing today. The gameplay is challenging and stimulating without being unnerving, and although the game is not soul-crushingly difficult, it still provides ample opportunity for some solid brain-racking. BBCC is also weirdly relaxing, a quality I would be tempted to attribute to its barebone, nearly abstract level-design: it's like we're dealing more with a bunch of symbols than with game sprites, and I found myself unusually focused and alert as I progressed through the levels. In fact, my focus only grew as I played, as if the game was acting as some kind of meditation device; and although I died and had to restart levels more than once, I never felt a shred of irritation or lassitude. Now I remember why I loved that game so very much back in the days and why I wasn't disappointed that it didn't sport an hectic gameplay: Super Mario Land did rile me up so much and so often than getting to play a game as relaxing as BBCC was like a breath of fresh air and a soothing balm on my gaming wounds. Although I decided to snatch BBCC primarily for nostalgia's and old days' sake, I'll definitely indulge in playing it again at some point; and I certainly encourage you to do so as well if you have the opportunity, dear fellow gamers, if only for the sake of getting a taste of 1990's brand of gaming. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

10/03/2017

Tales of Phantasia: An unlikely franchise starter


Gaming often moves in mysterious ways. Games that are critically praised sell only a handful of copies, consoles and games that are snubbed at the time of their release gather a cult following as time passes, games that no one of would have bet two cents on become massive hits; and last but not least, games that don't have a shred of originality in their code become the starting point of a thriving franchise that's still going strong twenty years later.

That last sentence perfectly applies to Tales of Phantasia. First released on the SNES in 1995 and then on a slew of other systems, ToP is the prime example of a game that should have remained a one-shot yet somehow miraculously managed to give birth to a whole series. They say hindsight is 20/20; but hindsight is no help at all when trying to understand how an RPG so unremarkable and cookie-cutter could become the founding ground of what is today one of the most recognizable JRPG series. ToP is a lacklustre potpourri of all the 16-bit RPG tropes under the gaming sun and could as well have been called "16-bit RPG 101". It has your nondescript 16-bit-ish pixelated graphics that should elicit nostalgia yet fail partly at it because of the colours being on the dreary side of the spectrum, your mandatory Mode 7 map that stopped being impressive long ago, your strident soundtrack that tries to sound mysterious and inspired and fails utterly at it, your peaceful home village that will inevitably end up burnt to the ground and kickstart the whole adventure in the process, your cast of colourful characters that join the hero a mere five minutes after meeting him, your everything that screams 16-bit RPG. I don't think I've ever played an RPG that felt so utterly familiar and derivative and borrowed so much from its forebearers (except maybe for Tales of Hearts R; but more on that later). This shameless borrowing actually verges on plagiarism, with the story being a pared-down rip-off of Secret of Mana sprinkled with a bit of Lord of the Rings. I guess the only reason why Squaresoft didn't sue Namco into oblivion at the time was the fact that all RPG stories were pretty unimaginative back then and tended to recycle the same elements ad nauseam. Now that I think of it, they still do so nowadays  but I digress.

So if ToP is that run-of-the-mill, uninventive 16-bit RPG, how could it achieve what countless other more original 16-bit RPGs, from Bahamut Lagoon to Secret of Evermore, failed to achieve? How could it warrant no only a sequel, but fifteen of them  and that's without even counting the spin-offs? Well, I have my own theory about the matter. I'd wager that the first and most minor reason ToP became the first entry in a series rather than a mere one-shot is its very title. The Tales of- structure can lend itself to all sorts of variations and potentially give birth to a infinity of games, and it carries an aura of mystery and whimsical sophistication to boot. Now that may seem like a petty and silly reason to transform an isolated game into a full-blown series; but let's be honest, stranger things have happened in the gaming industry, and we all know how important a striking title is in establishing a gaming series' brand.

But not wanting to waste a perfectly good title is obviously not the only reason ToP became the founding ground of its own series; in my opinion, the second and major reason this happened is ToP's fighting system. Pompously dubbed the "Linear Motion Battle System" by Namco themselves, this fighting system is all at once the game's saving grace and its only genuinely original feature. It revolves entirely around position and timing, the key to fighting prowess being to move around nimbly and to trigger attacks at the right time in order to strike foes without being hit. It also has a steep learning curve and requires a lot of practise to be fully mastered, but it only gets better as the game progresses. Although it's prone to the occasionnal bout of clunkiness, with Cress being sometimes as easy to move around as a 36 ton truck, this fighting system is overall a true gem that stands halfway between the hecticness of action-based fighting systems and the deliberation of turn-based fighting systems. I'm quite convinced that this highly technical and demanding fighting system, which is still pretty unique and unrivaled to this day, is the jewel in the series' crown and its main selling point. It's not a coincidence if Namco have been refining and honing this fighting system with virtually every Tales entry; it was a huge asset in 1995 and still is nowadays, all the more as no other mainstream RPG series has dared tread on that ground.

In a way, even ToP's utter genericness may actually be a strength, thanks to its all-encompassing quality. This is the kind of genericness that stems not from a lack of inspiration, but rather from a true love for its own genre and a desire to be inclusive and comprehensive. I already commented on the fact that Tales of Hearts R felt like a compendium of all modern JRPGs; and since the same holds true for ToP, I'm starting to think that this is an overall characteristic of the Tales series. That makes that series a perfect flagship for the JRPG genre; as a matter of fact, if I had to recommend a JRPG to someone who never played any, I would probably go for the Tales series. Tales games pack all the tropes and trappings of the genre while offering a compelling fighting system that should draw in players allergic to turn-based combat, they involve little to no level-grinding and last but not least, they are mercifully shorter than your average Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, clocking at roughly 35 hours on average. Heck, you could easily get your regular fix of over-the-top JRPG-ness solely by investing in the Tales series.

I've poured 14 hours in the GBA version of Tales of Phantasia so far, and a future run report is obviously in the pipeline. I'll keep the suspense intact by shelving my feelings about the game until then  which basically means that this post is a wrap. See you soon for a more personal take on my ToP experience, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

02/03/2017

Pokemon Sun/Moon: A miscellany of good and bad points


Hell is in the details, as they say; and so is heaven, as I often add. When it comes to games, my keen eye tends to linger on the most uncanny details; and my feelings for a game can often grow fonder or colder just because of a minute element that may pass the next gamer completely by. You probably know where I'm going with that, dear fellow gamers; without further ado, here's my list of all the details that charmed me and irritated me in Pokemon Sun and Moon. Enjoy!

"Lurid Ranger, go!"

The "Gimme more":

  • No HM moves. This is totally the feature I've been dreaming of without even knowing it. Gosh, how heavenly it is to be at long last able to dispense with HM slaves that clutter your team and serve no purpose beyond occasionally clearing the way. I fervently hope that this change is here to stay and that HM moves are now buried in older Pokemon entries for all eternity.
  • Being able to lie down in random people's beds, and getting informed comments about the state of said beds. Gee, how I dig up feeling like some kind of perv and sneaking into NPCs' intimacy. MCs in RPG can usually do whatever they please in NPCs' homes, but rolling around in bed sheets and burying your nose into pillows take that impunity to a whole new level. 
  • The sound effects at the Pokemon Center Caf├ęs. Hearing these deliciously realistic pouring, slurping and gulping sounds invariably makes me want to pour myself a warm cup of teawhich I usually do. I swear that my daily tea consumption has tripled since I started playing Sun and Moon
  • The Team Skull encounter theme, as well as their battle theme. And the wonderfully silly way they wriggle when they talk. Oh, and their no less wonderfully silly battle pose. Heck, I love everything related to the hilarious Team Skull; they're my favourite villain team ever, period. 
  • The Z-Moves poses. They remind me of the Power Rangers TV show I used to watch when I was a kid; and watching my Trainer flail about in such a cheesy yet totally heartfelt way really puts me in an upbeat and combative mood. Had I been ten years old, I'm pretty sure I would have reproduced the moves while playing outdoors.
  • Encountering a tanned, long-haired version of Professor Oak as I was cruising around Alola. Boy, did I have a shock when I recognize him! And yeah, I know this guy is supposed to be Oak's cousin; but I prefer to picture him as the original Professor Oak, and I'll stick to that version. 
  • The '80s-inspired colourful clothing in stores. I'm a sucker for bright colours, garish prints and '80s fashion overall, and it was pure delight to deck up my Trainer in outfits so gaudy that they could make one's eyes bleed. 

Oh, the joy of sneaking into strangers' beds.

The "Get outta here":

  • Not being able to engage in double battles without having at least two 'Mons in my team. Like, why on earth? Isn't it my right to be a daring masochist and take two 'Mons single-handedly if I feel like it? This stupid feature soiled my solo run by forcing me to recruit an extra 'Mon just to partake in these battles. 
  • Too many doors that cannot be opened. I don't remember having seen so many doors used as mere wall decorations in older Pokemon entries. What's the point of teasing me with these doors if I cannot see for myself what's behind them? This frustrates the explorer in me, it really does. 
  • Changing the battle protocol on the fly. Most of the time, you get the opportunity to save your progression before an important battle. However, the game sometimes gets a flight of fancy and throws you into battle right after an unskippable cutscene without giving you the opportunity to save. It's absolutely infuriating to get trapped in one of these vicious battles when your 'Mon's health is at its lowest; and given the game's difficulty, this can easily lead to defeat and having to redo the whole battle. 
  • The english traduction present in the European version of the game is horribly lacklustre. Very little humour and wit, no puns on 'Mons' names, no effort made to enhance character's personalities by tweaking their vocabulary. On one hand, it makes sense to make the english traduction as neutral as possible given the prevalence of the english language; but on the other hand, this is the European version and it would thus have been perfectly acceptable to pepper the english text with purely British references. 
  • The TV broadcast is utterly dull and uninteresting. The only thing you'll ever hear on Alolan TV are lame commentaries about malasadas that let you know that sweet malasadas are sweet and sour malasadas are sour. Why, thank you, Captain Obvious! After the delightful interviews in Sinnoh and the Japanese lessons and move explanations in Kalos, this lack of substance really stings. 

Look at me, cool as a cucumber while the world is crashing down around me.

And there you have it, dear fellow gamers: the details that enthralled and enraged me in Pokemon Sun and Moon. And with that, you also have my last post dealing with overall aspects of the gamesso to speak. All future posts about Sun and Moon will be solo run reports; and given how much I love these games and how many 'Mons inspire me and make me want to cruise solo with them, I'd wager that there will be a couple more posts about Sun and Moon down the line. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!