The Avian Solo Runs, Episode 4: Unfezant in Pokemon White 2

Welcome to the fourth chapter of my Avian Solo Run epopee, dear fellow gamers! The feathery 'Mon du jour is none other than Pidove, a bird as mocked, ridiculed and globally considered as crap as Pidgey and Starly are revered and beloved. Pidove is dismissed as a lazy knockoff of one of the most common birds ever known to man, and one must admit that there's a kernel of truth there — a mighty big kernel, mind you: while Pidove's final form Unfezant packs a modicum of personality and originality along with lovely plumage colours and patterns, his original form is, to all intents and purposes, a mere pigeon. A very grey, very realistic, very boring pigeon. Couldn't GameFreak come up with a fancier inspiration for the regional gen V bird than a species that's universally associated with the grime and dirt of big cities? Surely North-America has more local birds to offer, right? How about a Canada goose — or better yet, a bald eagle, the very symbol of the US of A itself? There are not nearly enough birds of prey in Pokemon games, if you ask me. But hey, what's done is done, and we have to make do with what we're given; and that's how I found myself yet again cruising Unova with a pigeon-turned-game bird.

While cruising alongside Pidove, I slowly but surely uncovered the real reasons why this bird is so universally vilified by Pokefans, and most especially by online meta aficionados. Those reasons can be summed up in a single, lapidary sentence: Pidove is a complete troll, the crème de la crème of trolly 'Mons. To see the full extent of GameFreak's trolliness when it comes to Pidove&evos, let's lay down the bird's specifics. Unfezant, Pidove's final evolution, has a base Attack Stat of 105 and a base Sp.Attack Stat of 65 — quite the gap, shall we say. This makes Unfezant a perfect Physical attacker; yet half of the Moves Unfezant can learn by leveling up, as well as nearly half of its TM Moves, are Special Moves. But there is worse: Pidove is, so far, the only example I've encountered of a 'Mon that cannot learn offensive Moves belonging to its own Type. I had no idea this was even a thing, and I swear I nearly choked on my own spit when I discovered my Unfezant couldn't learn bloody Sky Drop and Acrobatics. And what a coincidence, those are actually Physical Moves that would have taken perfect advantage of Unfezant's stellar Attack! Such a setting must have been intentional on GameFreak's part; they must have wanted Pidove to not live up to its full potential by severely restricting the bird's access to good Physical Moves, and I can only speculate about their reasons for doing so. My main guess is that they wanted to shake up the online meta my delivering a regional bird that was good for little beyond being a Fly slave. And if that's indeed the case, then they totally succeeded; because while Staraptor was gloriously perched on the heights of the OU tier in gen IV, Unfezant is pitifully nested in the depths of the PU tier, i.e. the absolute bottom of the barrel when it comes to competitive tiers.

Mind you, the glaring discrepancy between Pidove's Stats and its potential Move Pool is not its only shortcoming: the poor bird is also a complete regression when it comes to Move variety. GameFreak basically wiped the slate clean with Pidove, taking away all the subtle improvements made in gen III and IV in term of Move pool expansion for bird 'Mons and putting gen V's regional on the worst Move diet I've seen this side of Oricorio. The picture on the right shows the Move pool I used during the latter half of the game, and it fully showcases how utterly desperate I was to get my paws on offensive Moves for my Unfezant. I went as far as to give him an HM, which is something I usually never do in solo runs; and I had no choice but to slap two Special Moves on him just to be make sure I got Moves with high power, high accuracy and a decent amount of PP. (I know he can technically learn Steel Wing and U-Turn; but the former is not a TM in the gen V games, and the former would have been useless before I reached the Pokemon League and got rid of my HM slaves — not to mention that it's a pain to obtain.) And mind you, things would have been even worse if not for the awesome Move Tutor in Driftveil City who taught my Unfezant Uproar — i.e. one of the most amazing Normal Moves I've ever had the honour of handling. Uproar is basically a three for one discount, with each PP delivering three turns of intense action — perfect for restroom breaks. On top of that, it's a Special Normal Move, which is a configuration rare enough to deserve a bit of notice and praise — despite the fact that said configuration was not the best suited for my run. Uproar was a breath of fresh air by sheer virtue of being a Move I never used before, and its use was basically a bet every time: I could never be sure the next 'Mon in line wouldn't be resistant or immune to Normal Moves, and it made the use of Uproar widly entertaining.

The weird thing is that despite Pidove's huge limitations, cruising Unova with him was actually kind of a breeze. He was more than able to hold its own on the battlefield right from the beginning; and from the halfway point, he actually became overleveled enough to one-shoot opponents with Special Moves Air Slash and Uproar. Having these Special Moves was actually an ace in the hole all things considered, because it allowed me to reprise the strategy I used in my Pidgey solo run and dispose neatly of Rock and Steel 'Mons, and more generally of all 'Mons with a less-than-stellar Sp.Defense. That's the weirdest thing ever, really: for all intents and purpose, Pidove&evos is a crappy 'Mon and the shittiest regional bird ever created, and yet he is perfectly decent solo run material in practice. I'd be tempted to attribute this unlikely performance to Black&White 2 being shamelessly easy, if not for the fact that my Snivy solo run of Black 2 was far from being a cakewalk. How my Pidove-turned-Unfezant managed to perform so amazingly well despite his obvious limitations is quite a mystery to me, and I'll just chalk it up to a perfect combination of overleveling, fitting Moves and sheer luck.

With that fourth Avian Run under my belt, this feature is slowly but surely coming to an end, with just one more feathery solo run to tackle. I'll see you soon with the run that wraps it all up, dear fellow gamers; and I sure hope it will be the most glorious closure of them all. Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Ray Gigant: Not quite a dungeon crawler

I have to face the harsh truth: I've been playing Ray Gigant for 10 hours and I don't quite enjoy it.

I didn't want to believe it at first, you know. I mean, we're talking about a first-person dungeon crawler, i.e. one of my favourite subgenres under the RPG sun and one I'm not too picky about, given how much I enjoyed mediocre offerings such as Class of Heroes and Moe Chronicles; so how come I disliked Ray Gigant? I thought about it a little bit, and it suddenly struck me that Ray Gigant was not really a first-person dungeon crawler after all. Or, to be more precise, Ray Gigant looks and plays like a FPDC to some extent, yet it lacks all the trappings of the genre I've come to know and love. Here are the game's most glaring shortcomings, which are also my main beefs with it:

Easy in all the wrong places: Ray Gigant replenishes your team's health after each and every battle and lets you exit dungeons at any time, which is all well and nice; but I would have preferred an instant save option along with the possibility to heal outside of battle, thank you very much. Likewise, each dungeon features a single save point that also automatically reveals the whole map of said dungeon; but as a dungeon crawler aficionado, I feel totally robbed by that feature. Half of the fun in FPDC comes from maniacally exploring every nook and cranny of a dungeon and seeing the map filling up as you do so, and I don't fancy seeing a game take that simple pleasure away from me.

Too much story: Ray Gigant is a game that has a story to tell and really wants to tell it. In practice, this means that crawling is constantly interrupted by cutscenes bristling with dialogues. Maybe the story is fascinating for all I know — and I don't know that much, given that I stopped paying attention to cutscenes very quickly — but I don't play FPDC for their stories. In fact, I deem stories in dungeon crawlers detrimental to my fun, because constant narrative interruptions prevent me from becoming engrossed in the flow of the crawling. Also, the darn game is so hell-bent on telling its darn story that it doesn't allow diversions such as side quests. How rude!

Too linear and constrictive: I don't mind a bit of linearity in my dungeon crawling, as my intense love for 7th Dragon III abundantly proves; but Ray Gigant goes way too far in that department. For one thing, dungeons are, to quote Doc Brown in Back to the Future, erased from existence as soon as you polish them off. How dare you, game? I painstakingly explored these dungeons and it's my absolute right to be able to keep visiting them at leisure, dang it! For another, levels are capped, which forces you to resort to strategy rather than brute force in boss fights and makes level-grinding entirely pointless once you've maxed out your team's level. Now, I don't mind strategizing once in a while, but why can't I also level-grind if I want to? I'd rather have hardcore difficulty along with the possibility to level-grind rather than a reasonably easy game thats coerces me into a single course of action. It's all about freedom and playing it my way, and Ray Gigant won't allow me to do that — and I despise it for its interfering ways, ooh yes I do.

Too simplistic: No substantial loot. No shops. No real equipment management. No crafting system to enhance said equipment. No items. No side quests, not even Fedex ones. Palette swaps up the wazoo. Tiny and empty dungeons. Enemy placement that never varies. There's a fine line between simple and barren, and Ray Gigant definitely crosses it — more like leaps over it, really.  

That being said, not all is doom and gloom: I've been playing Ray Gigant for 10 hours, so it obviously has a couple of redeeming qualities. Roaming dungeons — when the game lets me do so — is delightful, the difficulty curve is well implemented and I really liked starting over with a new party once I was done with my first team. The final boss fight for Ichiya&co was also a neat and thrilling challenge: you have to balance parasitism, AP and SBM while hitting the boss and making sure everybody stays alive, and it was great fun. But alas, those good points are not enough to make me want to keep playing Ray Gigant. The last straw was when Kyle&co got stupidly wiped out in a stupid encounter after half an hour of intense crawling and fighting, which pissed me off so much that I erased my save file. I'm thus done with Ray Gigant for the time being, and maybe forever: because let's be honest, this game doesn't deliver at all on the dungeon crawling front. It's more akin to a visual novel with bouts of first-person dungeon crawling squeezed between events, and that's not how I want my dungeon crawlers to feel and play. What I want is freedom, huge dungeons choke-full of hazards and loot by the truckload; and if I cannot get all that in Ray Gigant, then I'll get it in other games. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Touhou Genso Wanderer: Lovely little roguelike

Touhou Genso Wanderer for the Vita is a strange beast. It's ridiculously expensive, has no physical release even in Japan and is, if the total absence of walkthroughs on the internet is any indication, played by virtually no one. PS4 owners were graced with a physical release of that game while Vita owners were completely ignored and had to make do with a digital-only version, which makes absolutely no sense given that the Vita is the abode of niche gaming. On top of that, it's a clunky Shiren the Wanderer clone with a pregnant low-fi, budget feel, which makes its overinflated price tag all the more ludicrous. And yet, I craved that game and wanted it in my collection; my gaming instinct told me I would have a blast playing TGW, and a blast I had indeed. 

Just like Shiren, TGW features a really short main story dungeon followed by some enormous post-game dungeons, the former feeling like a mere appetizer for the latter. Not for me, though: once I was done polishing off the 38 floors of the main story dungeon, I was more than content to turn off my Vita and call it a day. I wanted to indulge in a short, sweet and reasonably challenging bout of rogueliking, and that's exactly what I got with TGW. That game lounges at the easy end of the Roguelike spectrum and is much more forgiving than games like Shiren or Sorcery Saga. For instance, TGW doesn't send you back to the very beginning of the game empty-handed when you perish: you keep all your items, the only thing lost forever being your money. Traps are seldom — if ever — deadly and often fail to trigger, the item that lets you return to base is abundant and foes' behaviour is easily predictable.

Since TGW offers no cheated items such as Shiren's Mamel Meat to take care of powerful foes, main character Reimu has to be genuinely strong to survive the last floors of the main dungeon and the last boss. That mandatory strength is obtained primarily through leveling up gear and adding useful seals to it, and to a (much) lesser extent by leveling up Reimu herself. The sense of progression is much more palpable than in Shiren, as you find yourself able to go a bit further with every bout of equipment buffing-up. That makes TGW the perfect game for short bouts of rogueliking: with a bit of toiling, luck and clever gear management, you're guaranteed to see the credits roll in 15 hours or less. The game is full of lovely little surprises, such as a sakura flower dungeon, scrumptious-looking Japanese food items and pieces of gear that change form as they level up or get fused with other pieces of gear. Like, look at my awesome ghost sword and crystal shield in the picture above! They didn't look like that at first, and I nearly squealed with delight when they transformed under my very eyes. Little moments like this alone make the game worth playing as far as I'm concerned.

That being said, TGW is still a totally overpriced game that lacks ergonomy and is mostly derivative. I'd like to recommend it to beginners because of its shortness, if not for the fact that there are nearly no tutorials and that the menu sytem is really clunky and confusing, not to mention the rules of the game itself. Sorcery Saga is a much better deal for a beginner: it's more accessible, has a more distinctive atmosphere and can be found boxed for one-fourth of TGW's price. But despite TGW's shortcomings, I really loved it and could perfectly imagine myself replaying it. If only Limited Run could release a boxed version of that game, I'd be a very happy roguelike aficionado indeed. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


The Avian Solo Runs, Episode 3: Staraptor in Pokemon Platinum

Welcome to the third episode of my Avian Solo Runs feature, dear fellows gamers! Here we are, back to the generation that started it all for me; and boy, was it delectable to go back to my Pokemon roots. On top of being treated to sweet waves of nostalgia (kinda ironic knowing that I played the gen IV games only a mere three years ago), I got to appreciate much more how splendid a game Platinum is. Exquisite graphics, perfect pacing, lovely atmosphere, that game has it all and improves on Diamond and Pearl on all fronts. Sure, Sinnoh still could be a trifle more varied and offer more types of landscape, and the design of local 'Mons could still be a tad more inspired; but overall, Platinum is such a fulfilling game that I'm not sure I can ever go back to Diamond and Pearl and their crudeness. And since I'm mentioning all three games in the same sentence, there's one thing that bugs me: why are these games' names so inconsistent? We have a gemstone, an animal by-product and a metal, all things that are seemingly unrelated. According to the prevailing version logic, Pokemon Crystal should be titled Platinum, while Platinum itself should be titled something else entirely, just like Diamond and Pearl themselves. What's the logic behind this triad of names? Are they related to jewelry somehow? Or did GameFreak run out of inspiration at the time? These incohesive names don't diminish the games' merits in any way, mind you; but they sure are puzzling, all the more so are they are the only true case of nominal incoherency in the whole series.

Ramblings about versions and names aside, the regional bird du jour is none other than online meta darling and OU tier permanent resident Starly. This is no mere Fly slave we have here, oh nooo: Starly is, as one Jubilife TV anchor neatly put it, a "mighty fine" 'Mon, blessed with such impossibly high Attack and Speed that it might as well have been tailor-made for solo runs. With that tuxedo bird, GameFreak kept slowly but surely expanding the Move pool of their regional avian 'Mons: the Starly family has access to more Move Types than the Taillow family, which itself was an visible improvement on the Pidgey family on the Move pool front. Granted, the stinginess inherent to older entries when it comes to handing out Moves prevented me from gaining access to a genuinely wide Move pool; nonetheless, I managed to put together a pool of Moves belonging to four different Types over the course of my run, and that's the first time this happens since I started tackling the Avian Runs. On top of never-missing Aerial Ace and solo run little darling Return, my Starly expertly wielded Steel Wing, the Steel Move that had proved so refreshing and useful in my Taillow Run of Emerald, as well as newcomer Close Combat, a Fighting move with few PP yet great potential. That Move involved some lowering of the user's Defense and Sp. Defense Stats, yet packed an insane 120 power, which made it the perfect finishing Move to take down a buff Legendary or a Gym Leader's overpowered ultimate 'Mon. I used it regularly to wrap up tough engagements in a neat and orderly fashion, knowing fully that the defensive Stats reduction would have virtually no effect.

Mind you, my Starly solo run would have unfolded just as fine without Close Combat: the tuxedo bird is so insanely powerful that I encountered virtually no obstructions over the course of my run. With Platinum having a Rock Gym as its very first Gym just like Emerald, I fully expected to struggle as much as I did in my Taillow run; yet low and behold, Starly's Attack is so impossibly high that I managed to take down Roark's collection of rocky roadbloacks without too much damage nor fainting. I didn't use a single Battle Item over the course of my run, and the Elite Four was a complete walk in the park. I mean, what could a Bug Trainer and a Ground Trainer possibly do against a Flying 'Mon that's immune to Ground Moves and wields a kick-ass Flying Move? Starly&evos is stellar solo run material, a 'Mon utterly perfect on all fronts. Or nearly all fronts: in my opinion, GameFreak somewhat dropped the ball when it comes to Staraptor's design. Starly's final evolution looks a bit off, with a head that's too small compared to its body size, feather tufts that look like cat ears and eyes that are disturbingly tiny and devoid of expression. The worst part is that GameFreak actually changed the Staraptor sprite for Platinum, making the poor bird visibly uglier in the process; his Diamond/Pearl sprite looked much better, with a more natural stance and a sharper eye. Had I known about this sprite change beforehand, I swear I would have picked Diamond or Pearl for my Starly run despite the fact that Platinum is the superior game.

All in all, the Starly family amply deserves its fame and permanent spot in the OU tier. That bird is much more versatile than his gen II and III predecessors thanks to his more varied Move Pool, and ends up being much more entertaining and pleasant to use, especially in a solo run. My Starly solo run was overall an incredibly smooth, mellow and soothing ride — much like Sinnoh and the gen IV games themselves, really. And with that run under my belt, I now have only two avian runs left before I achieve full Regional Bird coverage. See you soon for more thrilling feathery action, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Rainbow Moon: That's a wrap

Roughly one year after I took a break from my beloved Rainbow Moon, I went back to it and polished it off in one clean, swift go. I defeated my archenemy in a fight that was mostly a matter of patience over tactics, said archenemy being a massive HP bag whose blows hardly made a dent on my little Baldren's enormous HP bar. I could then at long last go back to my homeland, only to be kindly invited to go back to Rainbow Moon — the land, not the game — to tackle a flurry of sidequests involving massively overlevelled enemies. I passed on that, though: after 75 hours spent playing Rainbow Moon, I definitely had my fill of grinding, drawn-out battles and quests sending me all over the world to pick random items. More of this would spoil the pleasure, and I certainly don't want to ruin the memory of those amazing and fulfilling 75 hours of roaming, exploring and grinding. I used to think that I would play that game for hundred of hours, taking my sweet time and enjoying the ride; but then the credits rolled and, well... You know the drill: my drive to play plummeted and crashed down, never to rise again.

To wrap up that Rainbow Moon epic, I'll make a quick, non-exhaustive list of the things I loved in that amazing gem of a game. I was initially (read: last year, when my obsession with the game was at its peak) planning to write an exhaustive list of said things I loved; but now, one year later, I don't really feel like doing that — not to mention that it would probably be an exhausting (no pun intended) read. So I'll just stick to the features that really stick out (sheesh, enough crappy puns already):

  • All randoms encounters can be avoided, fleeing never fails and the game lets you kindly know which foes you'll be fighting and how many of them. Perfect for micromanaging your level-grinding and your farming.
  • Should you die in battle, you'll respawn at the exact same spot with 1 HP. No progression lost, no backtracking, no hassle. 
  • Healers, merchants and the like can be found virtually everywhere, including in the deepest recesses of dungeons. Exploring those cutthroat places suddenly feels much more relaxing once you know you can rest and refurbish on the spot.
  • Instant save anytime, anywhere. 'Nuff said. 
  • You always get the opportunity to save and prepare before boss battles, even after you've engaged with said boss. This is the RPG equivalent of anime foes politely waiting for heroes to have achieved their transformations and delivered their introductory speeches before attacking them, and it's both hilarious and very handy.
  • Tons and tons of loot ready for the taking. On top of the obligatory monster drops, the game world is overflowing with safes and money bags begging to be pilfered. Oh, and they glow. With a golden shimmer. You'll feel like Scrooge McDuck when you see them, I swear. 

Then you have more subjective points, such as the lush graphics that caress and soothe the retina, the pint-sized game world that does away with useless roaming (always a plus for a gamer who grew up on 8 and 16-bits offerings), the whole enchanting atmosphere of the game that reminds me of RPGs of old and fills me with nostalgia and wanderlust, the tight gameplay that features metric tons of grinding, and so on. I just ADORE that game, period. It's a perfect retro grindy treat with a heavy coating of modern player-friendliness, and this is a mix I'll undoubtedly come back to in the future. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!