The Avian Solo Runs, Episode 2: Swellow in Pokemon Emerald

Welcome again, dear fellow gamers, for the second instalment of my Avian Solo Run feature! Our lone flyier this time is Taillow, a bird that can be described as the polar opposite of Pidgey: not only does it don a sleek, aerodynamic frame and cold-toned plumage where Pidgey was all ruffled feathers and warm shades, but it's also as gloriously unknown and ignored by fans as Pidgey is recognized and celebrated. As a matter of fact, I don't remember having encountered any mention or even picture of Taillow anywhere before playing Emerald. Sure, it's the regional bird of Hoenn, so it makes sense that it won't be seen anywhere beyond the region's frontiers; but heck, I sure knew about Pidgeot before playing the generation I and II games. Taillow, on the other hand, is hardly ever featured in fan art, is never mentioned again after generation III and certainly didn't benefit from a cool update in later generations such as a flashy Mega-Evolution. Is it because of its sober looks? Is it because it has only two stages of evolution? Is it because it looks way to much like its real-life inspiration? Is it because its final form looks ridiculously smug? Whatever the reason, I find this lack of fame mostly unwarranted given how amazingly that lithe bird performed in my Emerald solo run.

As you obviously noticed already, I went for the original Emerald rather than for the ORAS remakes. There were two reasons for that: first, I prefered the Taillow and Swellow sprites from the generation III games; and secondly, I wanted to experience said generation III as it was originally meant to be before diving full force into the remakes. I've only been dabbling briefly in Alpha Sapphire a couple of years ago, but gave up quickly on my playthrough for fear of spoiling my experience with Emerald. It seemed more logical and righter to play the original before the remakes, although I sure let a lot of time pass before finally tackling that Emerald playthrough. But better late than never, as they say; I now have a run of Emerald under my belt, and my, what a fine run it was. I know that the gen III games were the black sheep of the series for the longest time (until the gen V games snatched that dubious honour away from them); but that sure wasn't due to their pacing, storyline or to the Hoenn region in itself, because all these aspects are quite stellar. I found myself embroiled in a delirious and hectic adventure, rushing from mountain tops to ocean floors through what can only be described as one of the most varied and interesting Pokemon region ever created; I faced two incredibly touching and riveting Pokemon rivals and found myself squeezed between two vilain teams at loggerheads with each other; I got to meet and fight my dad for the first time ever in a Pokemon game and I Surfed so much I could hear the Beach Boys in the background, and I enjoyed the whole ride tremendously.

I also enjoyed Taillow quite a lot. Despite its lack of fame, this is a stellar bird 'Mon that can do a stellar job on the battlefield with enough training and dedication. Sure, we were off to an incredibly rough start, with the very first Gym being choke-full with Rock 'Mons. This was a serious roadblock that I managed to overcome only with an awful amount of preparations. First thing first, I level-grinded until my beloved Taillow reached lv.20, knowing fully well that this alone wouldn't do the trick; Taillow's main strength is his sky-high Speed Stat, but the bird is not especially stellar on the Attack front. So I made good use of a particularity of Emerald, i.e. the presence of Battle Items in Rustboro's shop — which, en passant, seriously challenges the notion that Pokemon entries only got easier with time. I bought all the X-Atk and X-Defend I could with my meagre funds, which didn't amount to much at that early point in the game; but I needed the edge they would provide to make my Gym strategy work. Said strategy involved stuffing my Taillow with Battle Items at the very beginning of the fight and spamming Double Team until the game told me it had no effect anymore in order to reduce damage; then, I would unleash my Taillow's not-so-destructive blows while praying for Double Team to work its magic and keeping an eye on the health gauge. This was a bit of an ordeal, but it worked finely in the end, and it gave me the (too) rare opportunity to strategize a Gym showdown from beginning to end.

After that mother of all Typing roadblocks, I pretty much spent the whole game one-shooting everything that moved. Sure, the Electric Gym that followed stung a bit (no pun intended), but it was still easy-peasy compared to its Rock counterpart. Over the course of my run, I put together a nifty Move roster made of normal moves Return (a beloved classic!) and Double-Edge (a move quite handy to wipe out 'Mons my Taillow was weak to before they could move a toe, knowing that being hit by said 'Mons would hurt more than the damage dealt by Double-Edge itself), flying move Aerial Ace (a bit weak on the long run, but never missing its aim) and steel move Steel Wing (a welcome breath of fresh Typing air despite its unperfect accuracy). I'm quite glad I got to use a different Move set and thus different strategies than in my Pidgey solo run, despite the fact that both Taillow and Pidgey are Normal/Flying 'Mons with tons of Moves in common; I was fearing that my Avian Runs would all play the same, but reality is proving otherwise — and much more interesting. I was also fearing that the lack of Physical/Special split for move would hamper my Taillow's performances, but I noticed virtually not difference on that front compared with newer entries. Guess these aging mechanics were really crippling only for a couple of unlucky 'Mons, such as Dark-Type Absol and his Stats that were often at odds with his Moves' assigned damage category.

In a nutshell, I loved everything about my Taillow Solo run, from the distinct GBA graphical touch to the swift pacing, without forgetting my gorgeous Taillow-turned-Swellow himself. But wait, you may ask, what did you think about Emerald's and Hoenn's most enduring legacy, the one that ultimately gave birth to the infamous "Too much water" meme? Well, I'll be blunt: I absolutely adored Emerald's overwhelming aquatic terrain. I loved the Surfing and the Diving to pieces, the latter even making shivers run up and down my spine: I used to be terrified of depths when I was a kid and that fear lingers still a bit in me, and my inner bathophobic found Emerald's representation of deep seabeds pretty convincing. That being said, I have a gripe about the water Routes featured in the second half of the game, i.e. 124 to 130; and that gripe is how wide and confusing they are overall. I got repeatedly lost on these Routes and it took me way more time than necessary to reach my goals, be they above or under water. That's pretty much a pet peeve, but I sure hope that the 3DS remakes improved on that aspect and made the maritime routes easier to navigate — no pun intended.

With that said, dear fellow gamers, I'll see you again for the third episode of my Avian Solo Runs feature, which also marks the halfway point of this whole ride. With that third episode, I'm going to dive back into the games that started it all for me as far as my love for Pokemon is concerned; games that, coincidently, I haven't played for the longest time. Hopefully the reunion will be fulfilling and heart-warming! Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Fairune: Cute but flawed

Indie games and I are not a good match overall; so when I stumble on an indie game I like, which happens one in a blue moon, I try to milk the darn thing as much as I can. That's why I've been polishing off three runs of Fairune, a cute little indie game that's an unashamed homage to 8-bit action RPG. Fairune is basically Hydlide sprinkled with a bit of Ys and Legend of Zelda: it boasts graphics that scream 8-bit, a really catchy chiptune soundtrack that has a way of getting stuck in one's head and a basic yet relaxing and satisfying gameplay based on puzzle-solving and enemy-stomping — complete with a very unexpected bout of space-shooting during the final boss fight. I had lots of fun playing that simple little retro treat, and yet... I'm not sure I would recommend it to anyone; because as cute and refreshing as it is, it's also quite flawed — and we're talking about a game-breaking flaw here, not a mere cosmetic issue.

If you write off Fairune's shortness, simplistic graphics and barebone gameplay as aesthetics choices that must be loved or left, the game's single major flaw is the inconsistency of its logic. Solving Fairune's endless string of puzzles is a cinch most of the time, especially when one figures out said puzzles' patterns; yet once in a while, the game throws in a puzzle that boasts confusing and/or never used before logic or even downright makes no sense at all unless the player knows exactly what they're supposed to do. Here are the three insults to logic that irritated me the most:

  • The Warrior Statue: This is an item that you obtain early on and that's used many times over the course of the game; however, figuring out how to use it can be tricky at first, because its design is kinda counter-intuitive. As the name suggests, this is a statue of the game's heroine; and as the shape suggests not, it must be used as a mere weight to hold down switches and the like. Why not go with something a bit more obvious and straightforward, like a stone or a brick? By all RPG logic, a statue should rather be used as a key of sorts to open a locked door, not as a mere dead weight. Were you trying to be fancy or just confusing, game? I'm so not impressed.
  • The Infinite Warp: An homage to 8-bit RPG wouldn't be complete without a good ol' screen that warps lest you choose the right set of directions. Fairune's warping screen can be found in the Administrator Tower; and as you may expect, there's a clue nearby to help you figure out the right directions, and that clue is none other than six statues conveniently facing the directions you're supposed to take. But wait, there's a catch: those statues only indicate the directions you have to take, not the order in which you're supposed to take them. Are you kidding me, game? Do you know how many options that leaves? If you assume that the last direction has to be left for layout reasons, that leaves 120 different combinations! I assure you I have better things to do than test 120 bloody permutations just to cross a screen, game. Such a cumbersome puzzle is entirely pointless, especially in the age of the internet. But wait, there's worse...
  • The Mamono Slayer: This puzzle is the worst offender of the bunch, because there is virtually nothing that indicates that it must be tackled or even that it exists at all. The Mamono Slayer is a sword that's necessary to slay the final boss; and how do you get that sword you're never told about? Why, by upgrading your regular sword in a hardly discernible split on the first floor of the Administrator Tower, of course! Seriously, game? Why can't I have a single functional clue to figure out what I'm supposed to do? Do you maybe expect me to try every single item on every single pixel until I hypothetically stumble upon the solution? This is pure obnoxiousness, that's what it is. There is nothing worse that a random puzzle that cannot be solved through logic just because you don't even know it's there

I honestly can't figure out why these shitty puzzles were allowed to soil Fairune. Was it a vibrant homage to the fake difficulty-riddled '80s adventure games? Was is an attempt to make the game last longer than the mere hour it takes to beat it once you know the ropes? Were the puzzles created by two different teams? Whatever the reason, that uneven logic serves no purpose and only detracts from the game's quality by forcing the player to run to a walkthrough on a regular basis.

Anyway, that's one less indie on my to-play list. I've been able to cross a couple more lately, including the two Hotline Miami games and Titan Souls: those three games combine a gameplay requiring diabolical precision with a sloppy and unprecise set of controls, and that's a deadly combo that made me scurry away faster than I could scream "shit, a game that requires motor skills!". So all in all, Fairune is the best indie I've played these last months despite its game-breaking flaw; and that, dear fellow gamers, is a testament to how indie games and me are not meant to cross paths. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


The Avian Solo Runs, Episode 1: Pidgeot in Pokemon HeartGold

Welcome, dear fellow gamers, for the first episode of my Avian Solo Runs feature! We're dealing with star material here, since our lone ranger du jour is none other than Pidgey, an absolute fan favourite and one of the most ubiquitous 'Mons of the first two generations. Did that famous opener live up to his reputation? Well, we'll see that very soon.

I cruised Johto and revamped Kanto on my DS, since I don't own the original games; and things will probably remain that way since these games are notorious for being unplayable these days lest one regularly replaces their batteries. Fun fact: my copies of HeartGold and SoulSilver, which are boxed and mint and which I snatched for a very fair price back in the days, are Canadian ones. More specifically, french Canadian ones, which sport only the language of love and are uncompatible with english copies. Now, this honestly boggles my mind: why release an exclusive french version in a country with two official languages? Was it a Québec exclusive? Anyway, this messed up with my Poke-references quite a fair bit — just think of all the translation work I had to go through just to be able to deliver that post — but owning the games in perfect condition was definitely worth the hassle.

This time around, I polished off Kanto right after Johto, taking my Pidgey-turned-Pidgeot all the way to the summit where Red was lounging around, seemingly staring at nothing with snow piling up around his ankles (Spoiler: Pidgeot wiped the floor with him and his 'Mons). And boy, what an epic, mindblowing and fulfilling run that was! It was all at once deliciously grindy, heart-warmingly cosy and brimming with thrilling exploration and roaming, and I loved every minute of the 22 hours I spent cruising the original two Pokemon regions. Well, nearly every minute: I could have done without the 100.000 times my Pidgey was paralyzed by Electric 'Mons (could it be due to her weakness to that particular Type?), without Whitney's bloody sturdy Milktank (good thing my Pidgey was female, or things would have been even worse because of Milktank's Attraction) and without Lt. Surge's ridiculously annoying Magneton, which I needed to postpone over and over to be able to beat it (Pidgey towered literally 45 levels over it when she took it down yet still struggled to do so).

The rest, however, was a cakewalk; and the fact that I even managed to reach Red at all despite my Pigdeot's occasional lack of punch — the poor thing has a base Attack of only 80, which is even lower than Liepard — was in no small part due to smart Move management. Flying 'Mons have very few weaknesses to start with, and most of the work consisted in working around these weaknesses. I unfortunately didn't manage to alleviate issues with Electric 'Mons, and they remained a thorn in my side until the very end. Rock 'Mons, on the other hand, were easy to dispose of thanks to an ingenious hack: I reprised the trick of wielding one Special Move and one Physical Move of the same Type — in that case Air Slash and Wing Attack respectively — to target each foe's defensive weaknesses. It turns out that Rock 'Mons often have shitty Sp. Defense, which allowed my Pidgey to dispose of them without breaking a sweat thanks to the combination of Air Slash, decent Sp.Attack and overleveling. I had an Electric-typed Hidden Power that allowed me to take care confortably of the many Water 'Mons littering Johto and Kanto, and Quick Attack retained its power for so long that I hold unto it until the late stages of the game before replacing it with my beloved Return, a.k.a. the Perfect Solo Run Move. As for my Pidgey's last glaring weakness, i.e. Ice 'Mons, they were so few and far between that dealing with them was hardly a hassle. I only had to delay Mahogany Town's Gym until my Pidgey was overleveled enough to take down Pryce's Pilowswine without passing out in the process.

This leads me to one of HeartGold's highlights, namely its non-linearity. I had written off this feature as crappy old-school game design during my first run of the game, but I realize now that this enthusing opening of the game world after Ecruteak City was entirely intentional on GameFreak's part. And boy, is it a thrill to get to explore the wilderness at your own pace and tackle the three next Gyms in the order you want! As it turned out, I started with Mahogany's Gym, failed to clear it and then followed the more traditional order of Cianwood and Olivine before returning to Mahogany with a vengeance and a good number of extra levels under my belt. Kanto was even better, allowing me to roam around as though I owned the place. I kinda did, in a way; despite having played through the first generation only once, I remembered nearly all locations. Now that I can appreciate better non-linearity and roving in Pokemon games, maybe I'll replay Generation I entries with a more open mind at some point. Hey, I own a copy of Yellow that is just begging to be played before its batteries die on me.

You get the picture, dear fellow gamers: this first official Avian Solo Run was a total and complete blast. It was thrilling, uplifting, heartwarming and a delightful adventure from beginning to end. Never before did I undertake 16 Gyms, a whole Pokemon League (twice) and a legendary Champion with a single 'Mon, and this exploit created the most enduring and amazing bond between me and my beloved Pidgey. This most breathtaking run also gives me good hopes for the following Avian Runs; although I already suspected that bird 'Mons were stellar solo run material, successfully tackling two regions and a regiment of Gyms Leaders with a single bird really drives the point home in the most flamboyant way. See you soon for my next Avian Solo Run, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Fire Emblem Awakening: A glorious end (spoilers!)

True love all the way.
After 20 exhilarating hours of play, my run of Awakening has come to an end. The final showdown was suitably epic, with my force making a beeline for Grima while weathering the relentless attacks of her minions. I let my strongest units gang up on her and the whole engagement was over after a mere couple of attacks, with Noire delivery the final blow. I then let my avatar nobly sacrifice herself for the greater good, only to have her revived in the last seconds of the ending sequence — and let's be honest, I totally expected that outcome. I mean, that's the least karma could grant me after I spent hours toiling to save the world from complete annihilation. Last but not least, Ricken got the gold medal, Miriel got the silver one and my avatar the bronze one. I really, really meant it when I said that Ricken was my absolute favourite unit.

What more can I say? Awakening was an amazing game, a game I only enjoyed more and more as I played it. I really lapped up the no-frills yet deep gameplay, I grew to love the characters more and more as the game went on, and I absolutely adored the whole atmosphere of that game; and let's be honest, I currently have to fight strong urges to replay the whole thing all over again with a male avatar. One thing I didn't like much, on the other hand, is the storyline. Or, to be more precise, I didn't like the whole time travel shebang, which I deem superfluous and pretty much uncalled-for in the context of Awakening. Time travel never works properly as a narrative device; yet for some unfathomable reason, it pops up time and time again in manga, anime and games. From Dragon Ball to Sailor Moon to Steins;Gate, countless series have reprised the trope of the heroes' progeny hailing from a supposedly apocalyptic future and travelling back to the past to prevent said apocalyptic future from happening, armed with a grim sense of purpose and a truckload of unsolvable time paradoxes and plotholes. In a nutshell, Awakening dabbles in a theme that's all at once totally cliché and pitifully inefficient, and there was virtually no chance it would come unscathed out of it.

My main problem with the time travel theme in Awakening is not so much the fact that it's bursting at the seams with plotholes — although it certainly doesn't help matters — but rather the fact that it's nothing more than a very transparent plot device whose sole purpose is to justify the presence of the characters' offspring as well as to make the double ending possible. The story would have been much more striking and efficient without that whole time travel mess: just let Validar be the vessel for Grima and find another explanation for my avatar's amnesia — like, she got a couple of fuses burnt after she tried to stop her evil father or something like that. Then, drop that crap about Grima being impossible to annihilate except by his own hand and let the crew slaughter him for good — all the more so as it doesn't make sense at all that Grima cannot be killed but can commit suicide. What is that, selective death? As for the offspring, well... How about going the sensible way and let the characters age for real? If the apocalyptic future theme is removed, then there is no need to rush things and the story can perfectly take place over the course of two decades. I think the story would actually work out better with a slower pacing and over a longer time period; it doesn't make much sense than my force can scour two continents and fight hundreds of foes over a mere one or two years as implied by the game. Then we could also dispense with the silly fan-service and not have Lucina pose as a boy and call herself Marth. Seriously, the girl deserved better than that cheap cross-dressing act.

But enough with negative musings about Awakening's story; let's rather focus on the many excellent lessons I derived from that game. I'm now more confident about my ability to play Fire Emblem games my own way, and I'm definitely going to change a couple of things during my next incursion into the series:
  • I'll use the best weapons as soon as they appear instead of shelving them and making do with low-class stuff. There is always better gear appearing as the game goes on anyway, so there's really no need to spare anything. I had tons of excellent weapons left in my inventory by the time I finished the game, weapons that could have been put to much better use. This won't happen again, I swear.
  • I'll focus on my absolute favourite units, the ones I really have a crush on, and totally ignore the rest. Once again, the game consistently delivers new units over the course of a playthrough, so I can rest assured that I will find good recrues for my force no matter what.
  • I'll wait until my units have reached Lv.20 before Master Sealing them. I was way too eager to promote them this time around, slapping Master Seals on them as soon as they reached Lv.10, and I lost a couple of yummy stats increases in the process.
  • I'll sell right away the items I don't plan to use in order to buy items I do plan to use. During my playthrough, I kept Gaius Confects and Vulneraries in my inventory for hours "just in case", before finally admitting that this stuff didn't square with my playing style and that I would never touch it. No more.

With that said, dear fellow gamers, I'm bidding Awakening adieu for the time being. Or am I? The game is still tugging at me, to be honest; and if it keeps obsessing me that way, then maybe I'll just cave in and polish off a second playthrough with a male avatar. As usual, I'll let my ever-dependable, all-powerful gaming instinct run the show! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Fire Emblem Awakening: The Dream Team

A.k.a my absolute favourite units, my own paragons of fighting awesomeness. I lavished copious amounts of pampering on these units, lovingly leveling them up and painstakingly maxing up their weapon proficiency chapter after chapter, and let me tell you: after all the hours I spent molding them into ultimate warriors, they will definitely stick with my avatar till the bitter end. Dear fellow gamers, let me introduce you right now to my own personal Awakening top 13!

Anna: The resident trickster's inclusion into my force came as a bit of a surprise for me; because honestly, my initial feelings towards her were tepid at best and nonexistent at worst. Sure, her ditzy-yet-savvy personality was rather charming, and her ability to wield healing staves and open safes on top of being an attacker was quite interesting; but on the other hand, she could build up support with virtually no one, couldn't tie the knot at all, couldn't change class and didn't get nearly enough opportunities to deploy her safe-opening talents. I wasn't swept away, that's for sure; and yet, Anna managed to buid herself a place of choice in my force by sheer virtue of being a reliable unit and a great asset on the battlefield. She slowly grew into a formidable fighter, which is something I certainly didn't expect given her class; and her healing abilities came in handy more than once, not to mention her nimble fingers. With hindsight, I'm glad I took a chance on her and gave her the opportunity to shine, because she amply deserved it.

Chrom: It's kind of hard not to include the face of Awakening into any top-unit list; Chrom is pretty much unmissable, if only because the game forces you to take him along on a regular basis. And yet, despite the fact that he's been involved in every single main story battle since the beginning of my run, my feelings towards him are quite ambivalent. The thing is, Chrom is not the best unit around despite being the game's poster boy. He hits quite hard, granted; but he's also surprisingly fragile and not really good at avoiding blows, which can lead to some unwelcome damage. Add to this a rather limited move range, and you get an unit that, while perfectly decent and serviceable, is not quite the crème de la crème. I like to compare Chrom's evolution in my force to Tuxedo Mask's evolution in the Sailor Moon series: both went from saving the day on a regular basis in the early stages to just being pretty in the background as time went on. It certainly doesn't help matters that getting Chrom killed always lands you a Game Over, even if your whole force is still standing. So, I can turn off Permadeath, but it's still a thing for Chrom? Can't he just scurry away to lick his wounds like the rest of the crew? All this makes Chrom a bit of a bothersome unit; and while I usually take him along for the ride, I use him solely to dispose of petty, weak foes that pose no threat to his health bar. I certainly wouldn't have him go at a boss and risk getting killed in the process, no thanks.

Frederick: With his sturdiness and his ability to wield three different weapons, Frederick is a great asset in any force. Sure, the fact that he cannot change class is bothersome: it takes away some of his potential for Stat growth, which in turn leads to him losing his edge and being overrulled by newer units in the late stages of the game. That happened in my run, obviously: Frederick went from riding high at the top of my unit chart in the first chapters to lounging somewhere in the middle of said unit chart as I'm reaching chapter 20. That being said, he's still an excellent unit that didn't get killed a single time on the front despite taking part in virtually every single battle since the beginning of my run — a distinction very few units in my force can brag about. His tongue-in-cheek demeanour and motherly personality are also quite hilarious and really grew on me as time went on — although once again, he's been forced into the background by newer units and got very little screen time in the second half of the game.

Gregor: The faux-Russian of Awakening gained entry to my force pretty much as soon as he appeared. He's sturdy, he hits like a beast, and he has this hilarious comedic Russian accent: what's not to love, seriously? Since that fateful first encounter, he's been getting even more awesome by acquiring incredibly useful Skills, such as Sol, which absorbs HP equal to half of the damage dealt, or Armthrift, which allows him to attack without wasting his weapons. He was delivered with Nowi as a package of sorts, and I just couldn't help but make them tie the knot; and given the lovely chemistry between the two of them, I have to assume that this was what the game wanted all along. And despite appearances, he's the younger one there by far, which creates a funny misunderstanding when the pair meets Chrom&co for the first time. Way to go and avoid accusations of lolicon, Intelligent System.
Libra: I just couldn't help but recruit the multi-tasking monk right away. One can always use a healer that also happens to be a capable attacker, especially when said healer has a really good move range. Libra cannot change class, and that's a bit of a shame; but he compensates that little flaw by his innate knack for multitasking and his great stats. Since he joined my force, he's gotten even more awesome by acquiring the skill Renewal, which restores 30% of his HP at the beginning of each turn; and even though his healing talents are required less often now that all my units have maxed out their levels, he's still pretty much an unmissable asset on the battlefield. His kind and unassuming personality is also quite refreshing, and it was great fun to pair him with brooding Tharja. For some silly reason, I'm quite glad Noire got his hair shade rather than Tharja's; there are so many dark-haired people in my force that a bit of blonde shine is much welcome.

Maribelle: Let's face it: Maribelle is overall a lousy unit, even after Master Sealing. She's frail, she doesn't hit hard, she misses her aim on a regular basis; so why has she been in my force pretty much since the beginning? Well, simply because I adore her. This is a typical case of hanging onto a character regardless of their abilities — or lack thereof — because of intense feelings, and that's not something that often happens to me in RPGs. I love Maribelle's exuberant and sarcastic personality, her adorable character design, her flowery language — I'm just madly in love with her, period. I lavished a lot of time, attention and stat-raising items on her to mold her into a good fighter, and I'm glad to say that my efforts paid off. Although she's by no means one of my force's top dogs, she's able to endure hits much better now and to deal decent amounts of damage; and while one-shooting foes is but a distant dream for her, at least I can have her on the front row now instead of keeping her in the back to protect her. And my, her romance with Ricken is just too sweet for words. In a nutshell, Maribelle is not going anywhere and will be prancing on the battlefield until the credits roll.

Miriel: I was initially not too fond of Miriel, to be honest. Her square, straight-A student personality really didn't click with me, and her drab garb didn't help her case. However, I quickly changed my mind when I saw her stellar performances on the battlefield, and she's been one of my top offensive units ever since, consistently wreaking havoc on the front row. She has a good array of really efficient passive buff and debuff Skills and she's sturdy as a horse when it comes to magic attacks, boasting the highest Resistance of all my units — along with Libra. Cherry on the cake, I adore her Sorcerer sprite; her outfit gained lovely azure and purple hues when she changed class, and she's now easier than ever to spot on the battlefield on top of looking really gorgeous. I'm really miffed I didn't manage to recruit her son; I'm sure the kid would have rocked just as much as his mother on the battlefield. Oh, well; I'll repair that oversight next time I play the game if Miriel still makes the cut — which will probably be the case, because she's just too awesome.

Morgan: The avatar's child, which also happens to be Chrom's child in my run. Two children for one couple is a bit too much in a Fire Emblem playthrough, and I was initially planning to ditch Morgan without a second though and have him join my vast graveyard of unused units. So how did he ended up in my force after all, you may ask? Well, for the ficklest of reasons: I wanted another happily married couple in my roster, and he was my favourite available male unit as far as fighting performances were concerned. And I certainly don't regret what was essentially a whim on my part: to my surprise, Morgan quickly grew into a formidable fighter and a great asset on the battlefield. The Master Sealing treatment made him even more awesome, and he's now comfortably nested at the very top of my roster along the rest of the big shots. Sure, his personality is painfully transparent, he doesn't get any screen time in cutscenes, and he looks just utterly plain; but who cares about that when he can decimate lines upon lines of foes? He's pretty much the polar opposite of Maribelle, i.e. a unit I don't really fancy yet integrated into my force just by sheer virtue of his brilliant fighting performances.

Noire: Libra and Tharja's offspring didn't impress me much at first. Despite the fact that I really wanted to integrate an archer into my force to be able to easily wipe out those pesky flying units, Noire's habit of dying early into battle made me dismiss her as yet another character that looked great at first glance yet couldn't hold their own on the battlefield. Just like Morgan, the only reason she was rehabilitated and joined my force at all is my fickle desire to play matchmaker; and just like Morgan, she proved to be an asset to be reckoned with once the right amount of level-grinding had been lavished on her. I can't say I'm fond of her switching personality and shrinking violet looks and gait; but once again, just like Morgan, her performances on the battlefield amply make up for her lack of attractiveness. I just resent the fact that because of her shooting range, she can easily get cornered by foes and find herself basically unable to move at all; as a result, it's really not a good idea to separate her from the rest of the crew and have her attack a bunch of foes on her own, lest you find yourself forced to dispatch another unit to rescue her. Tried and (de)tested, folks.

Nowi: I had an instant crush on lovely Nowi as soon as she appeared and knew right away that I wanted her in my force. She never disappointed me: she's pretty strong overall, with excellent offensive abilities and stellar defense, and she's one of these units that can be sent on solo rampages without having to worry about her fainting and scurrying away. Sure, she lost a bit of her bite as the game went on, going from being able to one-shoot every living thing when she joined the fray to needing two blows to dispose of foes in late chapters; but that's the destiny of all old units, and that really didn't deter me from using her — all the less so as she remained sturdy and perfectly able to waltz and wreak havoc on the front lines. Her kid, on the other hand, failed to impress me and make the cut: poor Nah is a bit of a wallflower, really, and I don't fancy dragon units nearly enough to justify having more than one of them in my party anyway.

Ricken: My little darling! The pint-sized mage can claim the honour of being my absolute favourite unit this time around. His absurd sturdiness and stellar offensive abilities make him an unmissable asset on the battlefield, and I've been using him in every single battle to great effect. And unlike many early units, he didn't lose his bite over time; on the contrary, he grew steadily more overpowered and unstoppable as the game went on. Master Sealing him into a Dark Knight made him a powerhouse that basically eats foes for breakfast and leaves no one alive in his wake. He's become a ferocious slaughterer that can be dispatched on his own on massive killing sprees rife with one-shooting; and with his awesome Lifetaker skill, which heals 50% of the user's HP after they defeat a foe, he can even take care of his own health perfectly. Why, it's like this skill has been designed especially for him! As a Dark Knight, he's supposed to be weak to mounted units; but honestly, that weakness is hardly noticeable, if at all. Frederick does take heavy damage from horsemen on a regular basis, but Ricken is pretty much unfazed by everything. He's a boss-slayer, a one-shooter and the absolute top unit of my roster, period.

Say'ri: The Swordmaster made it into my force in a nearly stealthy way, and her inclusion into the roster kinda took me by surprise. What happened is that I was experimenting with new potential recrues at some point after her arrival, and she was one of the units I put to the test. She kept dying on a regular basis, and I really thought she wouldn't make the cut. But as I had a bit of room in my force at the time, I kept taking her into battle anyway; and to my surprise, she slowly but surely grew into a very competent fighter that could hold her own on the battlefield and deal good amounts of damage. The Vantage and Astra skills, which respectively allow her to strike first at all times if her HP is 50% or less and to pull off five consecutive strikes, make her even more dangerous; and it wasn't long before she joined the coveted club of units that can pretty much one-shoot their way to the objective. I'm a bit miffed that she cannot tie the knot nor build up support with anybody expect for Tiki and my avatar, but her stellar performances on the battlefield amply make up for that tiny flaw.

Tharja: The game's resident Dark Mage was a pain to recruit: I had to restart her side story three times because she kept dying by recklessly throwing herself at my units and getting stupidly killed in return. That should definitely have deterred me from recruiting her; but for some reason, I had an inkling that she would be a valuable addition to my roster, and I was right. She was more than worth the hassle, as she quickly grew into a formidable assailant that could take down even the strongest armoured unit with insolent ease. She can take care of her own health just fine with Nosferatus, and Master Sealing her into a Dark Mage made her shoot straight to the top of my roster. She became virtually unstoppable after that, and she hadn't bit the dust a single time since her promotion. Her personality, on the other hand... Eh, I don't know. I think I'm just too old for all that cliché emo anime stuff; and her weird and awkward interactions with my avatar only made matters worse. I quickly grew tired of her brooding act, and I'm kinda glad that she consistently got less screen time as the game went on.

There you have it, dear fellow gamers: the thirteen harbingers of doom that follow my avatar virtually everywhere, to the hell and beyond. Because indeed, my avatar is also part of my deadly roster; but as she's mostly a placeholder with a very predictable evolution, I didn't bother mentioning her in that list. Then you have all the units that interested me at first yet didn't make the cut because I got bored of them or because they bit the dust way too much for my taste: Sumia, Panne, Cordelia, Owain and Henry. Sorry, guys — maybe next time? And you have Lucina, which is a bit of a special case: despite her ridiculous strength and huge potential for growth, I just never liked her and thus didn't want to fully integrate her into my force. Since she appeared, I've been taking her along in battle when room was available, because I could always use her fighting abilities despite not being fond of her; but in my mind, she's not part of my force and never will be. Well, weirder things have happened in RPGs, I guess. And with that, dear fellow gamers, this post is coming to an end. I'll see you soon with my final Awakening report — because let's be honest, completion is near as I'm writing this. Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Pokemon thoughts and announcements

Totally random Pokemon treat.
Greetings, dear fellow gamers! As you undoubtedly noticed, I've played an awful lot of Pokemon solo runs lately; so many, in fact, that this blog could easily be granted the subtitle "'The Serial Pokemon Solo Runner". I'm really not in the mood for demanding, 50-hour-long RPG epics these days: the only thing I want to play are short games with relaxing game worlds, mellow gameplay and simple rules. The Pokemon series fits this description to a T, and that's why I've been playing virtually nothing but Pokemon entries these last weeks. And my Pokemon fever is not over yet, oh nooo. In fact, I'm about to tackle a special feature, which I proudly dubbed "The Avian Solo Runs". As you may have guessed from the title alone, this is a series of runs featuring the resident bird of each region — you know, that bird that can be captured on the very first Routes and ends up being a Fly slave in most runs. I've always been extremely fond of bird 'Mons and itching to cruise more often with them, and the time is ripe to do so. I'll thus perform an avian run of each generation — bar generation I and generation VII: the former because it features the same regional bird as generation II, and the latter because I already cleared a solo run with the local bird. Stay tuned for some avian action in the weeks to come, dear fellow gamers!

Edit: Since writing that post, I learnt that the regional bird of Johto is supposedly Hoothoot rather than Pidgey. I find that notion debatable, since a) Pidgey and Spearow can also be captured on the first Routes and b) Gold and Silver were basically a remix of sorts of the gen I games and the concept of 'regional bird' was probably not a thing yet at the time. This theory is backed up by the fact that Hoothoot doesn't follow the usual Stat distribution of its supposed kind. Final forms of regional birds usually have high Attack and Speed, coupled with low defensive Stats and mediocre Sp.Attack; Noctowl, on the other hand, boasts high Sp.Attack, super-high Sp. Defense and low Attack. I'd be tempted to classify Hoothoot as a regular, non-regional bird — similar to Wingull, Farfetch'd or Ducklett — that was retrospectively branded as a regional for the sake of variety, and to assume that Pidgey is the regional bird of both Kanto and Johto; that would make perfect sense given the strong continuity between the gen I and gen II games and the fact that the two regions are basically next to one another. At any rate, I won't tackle a Hoothoot solo run of the gen II games; because as I'm writing this, I already have a Pidgey solo run of HeartGold under my belt and I really don't want to replay the whole game over again.

Yeah, I'm kinda obsessed.
And since we're talking about Pokemon and my current roaring obsession with it, I got to expand my knowledge of the games' core gameplay mechanics lately thanks to a number of really informative Youtube videos, which in turn led me to ponder a couple of technical matters that go as such:
  • Knowing that EVs are raised by battling 'Mons and that each type of 'Mon delivers an EV boost in a given Stat, could a 'Mon running solo have all its EVs maxed out by the time it reaches the Pokemon League? I'd be tempted to believe that it is indeed the case, because a 'Mon that single-handedly takes down the fauna of a whole region has to get a ton of EV in all Stats. And there's another element that leads me to believe that solo runs are the perfect EV training regimen: the Effort Ribbon, which rewards a 'Mon with maxed-out EVs and which I'm quite sure I already obtained in some of my Pokemon solo runs. At any rate, I'm going to keep an eye on the Super Training feature when I tackle my avian solo run of X/Y and answer that question myself once and for all. 
  • Let's say you want to comply with the series' Western tagline and resident Pokemon Professor's orders and complete the Pokedex, going after all those elusive Legendaries, 'Mons with an insanely high evasion rate and other Feebasses. Given that the amount of money obtainable in the games is limited and that you cannot grind for more and that some 'Mons require an hefty number of tries before being caught, can a player find themselves in a situation where they are totally unable to complete the Pokedex because of a lack of funds to purchase Pokeballs? I never heard of anything like that, but I'd be really curious to know if it can concretely happen. 
  • Some 'Mons out there cannot be considered solo run material not because of their Stats, but rather because they appear way too late in the games to be viable candidates for solo runs. On the other hand, I've been wondering: since I own all pairs of Pokemon entries as well as extra 3DS, wouldn't it be possible to capture a late 'Mon in one of the games during a solo run, store said 'Mon, send it to the other game through trade and then tackle a solo run with it as usual? I would have to take into account matters such as the involved Mon's level and the number of Gym Badges needed to make it follow my orders; but technically, that should be possible. Now I just have to try it for myself. 
Having said that, dear fellow gamers, I'll see you soon for the first episode of my Avian Solo Run feature. I'm quite thrilled by this whole thing, and I just can't wait to revisit all generations and indulge in all sorts of feathery adventures. Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!