Etrian Odyssey: That difficult second stratum

I'm done with EO's second stratum, and let me tell you: I'm glad. I'm glad that darn Primitive Jungle is behind me, and I don't want to roam it again before a very, very long time.

To be fair, that second stratum was not nearly as hard as the first; but what it lacked in difficulty, it made up for in sheer tediousness. It boasted tons of FOEs that respawned at the speed of light and had to be eliminated on a regular basis for unhindered roaming, damage floors, trash mobs hell-bent on poisoning me, hidden passageways, stealth sessions — in a word, the whole shebang of first-person dungeon crawler obnoxiousness. On top of that, I was really not fond of that stratum's look, with its dull and dark colour palette that contained way too much black for my retinas' liking. Are jungles really that dark? And if they are, do we really need game jungles to be realistic? I'd have preferred deep and lush shades of green rather than this depressing mix of black and khakies.

But all these annoyances pale in comparison to the second stratum's main irritant, which was none other than the bloody backtracking. I honestly don't think I've encountered a worse case of backtracking in any RPG ever. The whole stratum was a nasty case of two steps forward, three steps back: crawl a bit, retreat, save, crawl a bit further, kill some FOEs, retreat, save — rinse and repeat for a number of hours I'm glad I don't get to know. That number of hours was pretty indecent, if my lone ranger's progression is any indication: I gained 30 levels in that stratum alone, and I gained them solely through backtracking, with not a shred of dedicated level-grinding involved. I don't know if I should be happy or mortified, honestly.

Regardless of how I feel about that second stratum, there's no denying that this is the stratum that made me stupidly strong and indecently oveleveled. On top of the 30 level package, I gained access to the powerful skill Smite, which could as well as been called "let's bulldoze that FOE in three turns, b*tch". FOE fights are now only marginally harder than the average trash mob fight, and I can easily handle several of these nasties in a row — or even at once. How do you like my fighting now, you bullies? I used to tremble at the sight of you, but I'm all grown and leveled-up now. (Cue evil laugh.)

Anyway, I'm standing on the very first squares of the third stratum, which is already promising a much more pleasant roaming by sheer virtue of its gorgeous crystalline blue colour palette. I think I'm going to take a one-day break from the game, because that cursed Primitive Jungle really drained me; but I'm already itching at the thought of exploring that splendid oceanic third stratum. I'll see you later with tidings of the Azure Rainforest, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Code:Realize: Here we go again

I'm just done replaying Code:Realize, folks. Now, why replay that game, a mere year after I wrote two unflattering posts about it? Well, I could tell you that I'm playing a super-grindy game these days and need a lighter game on the side to unwind, or I could tell you that I'm usually in the mood for VN in the winter; but the bottom line is that my gaming instinct wanted to revisit that game for some unfathomable reason — and where my gaming instinct tells me to go, I go.

Not only did I replay C:R, but I replayed every single route — and I'm glad I did, because it gave me a new appreciation of that game. To sum it up neatly: everything I said about C:R last year still stands, and yet I like that game nonetheless. I'm not sure why I like it, to be honest. I could try to come up with reasons, such as the lush SFX, the gorgeous colours, the characters' mannerisms, the whole atmosphere; but I'll rather leave it at that and simply enjoy the fact that C:R was not such a bad investment after all. I mean, nobody said love had to be rational, right? Having said that, I still have some criticism in store for C:R — because indeed, it's very much a case of tough love between me and that game. First, a quick route review (minor spoilers):
  • Victor: Just as perfect as the first time. For me, Victor is Cardia's canon mate, and nothing will make me bulge. The clever way Victor figures out a solution to suppress Cardia's poison is deliciously satisfying, and the smooth way he saves her and London in the nick of time while slipping in a steamy moment is even more satisfying.
  • Impey: Still nice, entertaining and very Jules Verne-ish. Still no chemistry between Impey and Cardia, but that cannot be helped. 
  • Saint-Germain: Now that I knew what to expect, that route felt a tad less weird. Still, events there are a bit too far-fetched for my taste. Why would anybody go as far as Saint-Germain does for the sake of a single person? And the whole "we'll shape our destiny ourselves" motto has been worn out by scores of JRPGs already and has no more lustre to offer. 
  • Van Helsing: Mr Iceberg's attitude was slightly less intolerable this time around — heck, I could even spot flashes of niceness towards Cardia here and there. Still, that route is by far the weakest when it comes to narrative content. You want me to swallow that Aleister manipulated events around Van Helsing for years just for the sake of traumatizing the latter, and that Van Helsing's feelings for Cardia allowed Aleister to add the final touch to his twisted oeuvre? I mean, Van Helsing doesn't manifest Hidden Strength in the other routes, so it's obviously Cardia's love that makes the difference; but why would psycho Aleister give up on his prey so easily in the other routes? On the other hand, why would he go that far in the first place? You're either too crazy or not crazy enough here, mate. 
  • Lupin: Just as unconvincing as before. The game tries its hardest to convey romance and to showcase the Frenchman as the perfect bachelor, but I just cannot feel l'amour there. 

Now for the biggest bite, i.e. Cardia's overarching story. Oh boy, is there a lot to say about it. There are so many problematic things there that I don't know where to start. Well, maybe by saying that the biggest issue is not so much Cardia herself, but rather her father Isaac, whose decisions make absolutely no sense in the context of the story. (SPOILERS again!)
  • Incoherency#1: Isaac abandoning Cardia in a remote mansion instead of locking her up in his headquarters. I know I mentioned this before, and I know I'm supposed to exert suspension of disbelief here; but I'm sorry, this premise is just too far-fetched to swallow. The story goes to painfully great lengths to establish that Cardia's Horologium is of paramount importance and holds the key to Isaac's entire masterplan; and yet you want me to believe that Isaac casually let Cardia frolic around in the boonies, free to attract unwanted attention and be abducted by any random madman wanting the Horologium for himself? Either that guy is a complete moron, or this a a very transparent plot device to allow the story to unfold the way it does — and I'd wager it's the latter indeed. 
  • Incoherency#2: Isaac recreating his children only to kill them off. On one hand, he claims upon dying that the only thing he wanted was to be one with his family again; yet on the other hand, he tells Cardia that he doesn't like her and that she's only a pale copy of his beloved daughter. So what does he want exactly? Did he clone his children hoping to recreate his happy family, only to realize that he couldn't love them after all? Now that would be fickle.
  • Incoherency#3: Isaac turning himself into pure spirit and letting a clone of his son take care of his masterplan in his stead. How did he achieve that state in the first place? And why would he all of a sudden entrust the son he always despised with such a mammoth task? Given the story's fantastic nature, having Isaac being alive and well and planning to fuse his original physical body with Cardia's Horologium after using the pendant on it would have made just as much sense as doing these things as a big ball of something with Finis' help. I'm afraid we're privy to another plot device here: keeping Isaac as an ethereal presence makes him more threatening and unescapable, as well as more akin to the god he wants to become. Too bad it doesn't also make sense in the grand scheme of things, really. 
  • Incoherency#4: The slaughtering of Isaac's family and Isaac's subsequent madness. Sure, rural folk in C:R are routinely described as subhumans, always ready to harass and wrongly accuse innocent people; but killing the entire family of the doctor that served them for years just because they feel he might be responsible of the current famine is too much, even for them. Isaac's reaction to that event is no more believable — so your family has been murdered, and the first thing that comes to your mind is "I'll become a new god"? How about something less far-fetched, like "I'll torture and murder all them pigs that did that"? Once again, plot devices: a forced and overblown trigger to a no less forced and overblown change of character.

In a nutshell: Isaac is an half-baked villain, he makes no sense whatsoever as a character, and nearly all his decisions are mere plot devices that exist solely to further narrative developments. Too bad it's so painfully transparent. There are also a couple of minor non-Isaac-related plotholes that bothered me, such as:
  • Cardia and Finis being twins: Really? Cardia looks at least five years older than Finis, if not more.
  • Lupin rescuing Cardia just before Isaac is done absorbing all her poison: Sure, that's a neat narrative trick, and a no less neat way to let Cardia live as a normal person... That is, until you start thinking about it in earnest. Like, how on earth did Lupin know when the poison was about to run out? Sheer luck, obviously! And how did he know which amount would be necessary to let Cardia live a normal lifespan without emitting poison? Sheer luck again! Yeah, more like "shut up and suspend your disbelief, b*tch". 
  • Horologium tautology: Okay, so the Horologium needs to spend some time in a living being to reach its ultimate state. Regular humans couldn't survive the stone's poison, so Isaac created an Homunculus (i.e. Cardia) to bear it. Fine; but given that the Horologium is the very thing that keeps Cardia alive, how does she qualify as the living being that will allow the Horologium to mature? She wouldn't be alive if not for the stone, so she's not really a living being after all. Or can the Horologium feast on the very life it grants Cardia? This is all quite unclear, and it looks too much like a logical fallacy for comfort.

Geez, that's a lot of writing for a game I already played once! But when all is said and done, I like Code:Realize despite its flaws. I like it so much, in fact, that I firmly plan on purchasing the sequel that's slated for release in early 2018. Heck, I even have a wishlist for that sequel: I want a Delacroix route, because Delacroix is a sheep in wolf's clothing and seeing him getting all flustered at Cardia's wooing attempts would be hilarious. I also want an Aleister route, because every Otomate game needs a sir psycho sexy as a love interest; and I'd even like a Finis route for the sake of 'blooming-love-overcoming-deep-seated-hate', if not for the fact that Finis is Cardia's brother and is feasting on the flowers. Oh, and I also wanna see Victoria and Leonhardt tie the knot. Let's hope that the sequel will make some of these wishes come true! I'll see you later with more Code:Realize tidings, dear fellow gamers; as usual, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Etrian Odyssey: The first fight is the hardest

I'm mad, mad, mad about that game. I'm hooked, hypnotized and glued to my DS screen, craving for more. If Ray Gigant made me doubt my undying and ardent love for first-person dungeon crawlers for a split second, Etrian Odyssey gloriously reasserted the vibrancy and intensity of that love. I'm loving that game much more than I ever though I could, actually: I half-expected an unpolished early-era DS game with clunky controls, crappy graphics and player-unfriendly features up the wazoo, but what I got instead was a well-crafted and challenging game with an unique and enthralling vibe. I've been playing for one week and just cleared Yggdrasil's first stratum, so now's the perfect time for a small break and a progress report.

Meet Wolf, sole member of the Cruiser guild. (Yup, that's totally a reference to 'lone wolf'. Sue me for my poor taste in MC names, I don't mind.^^) She's one of the character models featured on the game's cover art, which gives me the satisfying feeling that she's somehow supposed to be the hero of the game to begin with; and she's also a Protector (in other words, a tank), which is undoubtedly one of the best suited classes for solo endeavours in EO. High defense, decent attack and healing skills, what more could you ask for for your one and only? Well, probably better foraging skills and a higher agility, because little Wolfie lacks a bit on that front. But hey, solo runs are all about choices and sacrificing some stats and abilities for the sake of others, so I won't complain — all the less so as my lone Protector is doing a stellar job at exploring Yggdrasil so far.

The Death Row.
As expected from a hardcore FPDC, the early stages were hard. Like, soul-shatteringly, weepingly hard. It was all about surviving the very first battle, i.e. the hardest battle of them all: I knew that if I could survive that first battle and make it back to town, I would be on a roll. It took me many a try and many a Game Over, but I finally succeeded and could breath a long-awaited sigh of relief. Or, to quote Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill, "hard's part over"! Well, not quite yet — or, to quote O-Ren in Kill Bill, "you didn't think it was gonna be that easy, did you?" The following battles were just as tough, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I died dozens of times on the first floor and spent my first hour of play roaming the six squares right in front the exit and retiring to town to save after every single battle. That being said, I also have to admit that I unwillingly made things harder for myself by not checking the local shops and purchasing better gear and healing items before venturing into the dungeon; but hey, what's done is done, and it was a thrilling challenge anyway, so I regret nothing.

A lot of time has passed since those fateful first steps (although I cannot tell exactly how long, because EO doesn't track playing time) and things have changed for the better. I roamed, grinded and grew stronger, going from a wimp cowering in fear at the sight of a butterfly to a ruthless fighter eating FOEs for breakfast — and lunch, high tea and dinner, for that matter. Game Overs have become few and far between, and I can safely claim that no battle on the first five floors poses a genuine threat anymore. Even first boss Fenrir couldn't resist the assaults of my lone ranger, and I put the nasty beast to rest after using a couple of devious tricks to separate him from his vulpine minions. (Why is a saber-toothed tiger the leader of a pack of wolves, I wonder.) You didn't think I was going to fight all of you at once, did you? I'm kinda overleveled, sure, but not that overleveled. Not yet, that is. (Cue evil grin.)

EO's atmosphere is something else, really. None of the FPDC I've played so far manages to combine so perfectly and expertly a peaceful and soothing vibe with a sense of menace and impending doom. Class of Heroes has the latter without the former, Demon Gaze has the former without the latter, but only EO has the whole package. The crystalline colours, the mellow soundtrack and the exquisite sound of crushed grass under my feet make me want to to roam endlessly; yet at the same time, every step feels like a step closer to a Game Over. I genuinely feared going deeper into the labyrinth during the early stages, and I swear I felt my throat tighten the very first time I lay my eyes on a FOE. This is a potent and striking mix, and I'm not going to forget my first impressions of that game any time soon — even though by now, Yggdrasil has lost a lot of its chilling power thanks to my dutiful grinding.

I'm surprised that such a fuss was made about the map drawing feature, when it's a totally superfluous task that can be ignored for the most part. There is an auto-drawing map option; and while it doesn't show walls, doors and harvesting spots, those can be added afterwards — like, when one is safely back to town. Drawing walls is by far the most time-consuming task, and it's not even necessary to navigate the labyrinth. Check the map on the side: the left half shows a fully completed map, while the right half is solely the product of auto-drawing, with a couple of door icons added — as you can see, the latter is explicit enough and perfectly serviceable. For all intents and purposes, map drawing in EO is just a flashy gimmick that's here primarily to help the series stand out from the dungeon-crawler crowd. Mind you, I'm not complaining; I was actually afraid of disliking the series because of that very feature, and I'm glad that it turned out to be nothing more than an innocuous gimmick. In fact, I even enjoy fine-tuning my map once I'm done exploring a floor.

In a nutshell: I adore that game, and I'm gonna keep playing it for a long time. Brace yourself, second stratum, for here I come! I'll see you soon with a second progress report, dear fellow gamers; until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Generation of Chaos - Pandora's Reflection: Final thoughts

Well, I'm done with Pandora's Reflection for now. A second run with my overpowered duo was darn tempting, but I was just dying to play *name hidden for suspense's sake* and that took precedence. So here comes my final opinion about the game, warts and all.

This is a PSP budget game, with the good and bad points of such games. I like the lo-fi charm of budget offerings from that console generation, so I was delighted and felt right at home. That lovely fuzziness! Those charming non-animated skits! Those nostalgia-inducing pixelated 2D sprites! Gimme more! What I didn't like so much, on the other hand, was how dark the game was — like, in every sense of the word. From the dull and murky colours to the gloomy story that spares the player no gruesome description of murder, torture and the like, PR did a serious number on my mood after a while. Also, the final boss — the one I fought, that is — is a nasty cheating b*tch. She had as much HP as Claude and Yuri at their max level together, she could teleport, cast spells and heal, she moved four times faster than my duo and, cherry on the cake, she had 25 minions as cannon fodder. How is that fair? It took me no less than four tries to beat her, and boy, did it felt vengefully good. I was initially planning to check the other two endings, but... After that laborious showdown, I really didn't feel like it. Those endings can wait until my next run of PR

Although I love PR's simplicity and low-fi feel, there's no denying that the gameplay is a bit lacking. This game obviously wants to be the perfect portable SRPG and Visual Novel hybrid, with its short chapters offering narrative developments along with the battle du jour; but alas, the story and battles are too disjointed and this enticing mix never gels. Like, my crew goes on and on endlessly about how weak and fragile Yuri is and how she needs to be protected from harm, when Yuri is actually a warhorse that eats foes for breakfast on the battlefield — cue Underrated and Overleveled. And talking about the battlefield, it's downright silly to see the battles' winning and losing conditions contradict over and over what the narrative struggled to establish just seconds before. Even when the whole crew insists on sparing opponents, seizing enemy positions first and foremost or destroying a given contraption, battles always unfold the exact same way and can ALWAYS be won by slaughtering every living thing in sight and/or taking the enemy base. Take, for instance, that chapter where you're forced to fight brainwashed young orphans: the way the whole crew insists on sparing the kids' lives, you'd think that the ensuing battle would include a losing condition in case too many kids are killed — but NOPE! You can slaughter them all, and you'll win just the same, with hefty amounts of XP in your name! Also, battles that are titled "Destroy contraption X" or "Take position Y" usually don't even feature the objects in question, let alone the actual opportunity to destroy them! I swear, this became hilarious after a while.

But hey, let's be honest: I don't care one bit. I played that game for the battles, the grinding and the duo run thrill, and I got everything I could wish for on that front. The story can get lost for all I care, and so can the rest of the crew. Claude&Yuri forever! I loved that game, and let's face it, I'll probably purchase a Japanese copy of it somewhere down the road. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Generation of Chaos - Pandora's Reflection: It takes two to clear that game

I did it, folks: a true blue duo run of Pandora's Reflection. Claude & Yuri only, all the way to the final boss — and boy, am I proud of that feat. And it was fun, too! Now obviously, that duo run involved copious amounts of level-grinding, along with tweaked battle tactics. Forget about taking enemy positions, forget about weapon complementarities, forget about terrain, forget about all those niceties and subtleties of SRPGs: my main battle tactic consisted of sticking around my base, slaughter all the minions that kindly came down to attack said base and then make a beeline for the boss. Stage done, next! When the number of grunts was too annoyingly high and I didn't feel like taking down all of them, I splitted my duo and let one protect my base and the other slaughter the boss. All in all, those dual tactics worked like a charm. In fact, I daresay that if there ever was an SRPG that lent itself to duo runs/limited party runs, then PR is exactly that game. Not only is it technically possible to run with as little as two units in PR, but the game is actually highly conducive to these types of runs because to the following points:

  • You only get to deploy two units at the beginning of each battle. To be able to deploy more, you have to take so-called unit and/or strategy points first, and then make sure that said points are not invaded by enemies. And it's not like there's hundreds of these points around, oh nooo: even if you take them all, you'll hardly manage to deploy more than three or four extra units. Better save yourself the hassle and make do with what the game gives you, o yes precious.
  • You cannot leave your base unattended at all, lest foes make a beeline for it and take it in the blink of an eye. This means that you can only send a single unit to take unit/strategy points at the beginning of a battle, and that single unit will probably run into tons of enemies on the way. Much better to lounge around the base and take advantage of those sweet, sweet impact circles until the small fry is disposed of.
  • The battlefield is too small to accommodate many units. We're talking about a single screen here with no scrolling involved, and it can get crowded really fast. Better to have just a few units and a clear view of what you're doing. 
  • The enemies are such pushovers that it's not worth over-strategizing. A bit of level-grinding, and you're set! Also, the weapon complementary thing is basically pointless: during my playthrough, I didn't run into a single battle where both of Claude's or Yuri's weapons were weak against their foe's ones. There's really not point in tinkering with units when it only takes two to tango all over enemies' bodies. 

But hey, I'm not trying to convince anyone to play a duo run of PR. Like, not at all. It's not like I'm a hardcore solo runner that sings solo runs' praises at every turn, now is it? Okay, I'm totally trying to convince you there. But I swear, that's because cruising with Claude and Yuri alone is the perfect treat for grinding aficionados. I had such a blast playing the game with these two that I nearly want to start a New Game + right away. I'm not sure I will, though; there are tons of other games tugging at me, and I'm quite greedy for new playthroughs these days. So I'll come back to you soon with either a post about a second run of PR or a post about my final thoughts about the game, dear fellow gamers. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Utawarerumono-Mask of Deception: I hate cliffhangers (SPOILERS!)

I really, really hate cliffhangers. Wait, did I mention that I hate cliffhangers? I deem them the cheapest narrative trick ever, a dirty way to ensure that the reader/viewer/player/whatever will feel compelled to purchase the sequel. Plus, cliffhangers are nothing but emotional porn designed to tug at one's heartstrings while at the same time leaving them insanely frustrated. Like, how can I not desperately want to buy Mask of Truth after UMoD fed me its heart-wrenching ending? How can I live without knowing if Kuon and Haku are reunited and if Haku's deception is exposed? Heck, just the thought of having to import Mask of Truth and wait a few weeks until it's delivered is killing me right now.

Sheesh, that ending royally pisses me off. Not only is it a dirt cheap cliffhanger, but it's a stupid dirt cheap cliffhanger. Having Haku pose as Oshtor makes. absolutely. no. sense. whatsoever. I don't care that this was Ohstor's last wish; it's pretty obvious right off the bat that Haku is going to buckle under the pressure of impersonating someone else sooner or later and that the whole scheme is bound to fail. (Just ask Jean-Claude Romand how that crap worked for him.) Why not let Kuon know? Why not let the whole crew know, for that matter? If this was indeed Oshtor's last wish that Haku pose as him, as the game implies, then it's pretty obvious that Oshtor made that demand for his countrymen's sake, so that they have a trusted leader figure to look up to. As for the crew, they would sure prefer to have Haku at their side rather than Oshtor; not to mention that Haku's deception would be more likely to last if he had accomplices. So why? Heck, I think I know the answer: to create more drama and ensure that players will purchase Mask of Truth without fail.

Well, I certainly will do that — and not for the cliffhanger's sake, mind you. I had lots of fun playing UMoD and totally want more of it. Sure, it was not perfect by any means: the story was too disjointed at times, the characters' behaviour had me rolling my eyes more than once, and I swear I wanted to punch Nekone into oblivion when she nearly ruined Oshtor's chances to win the final fight by throwing a tantrum like the unsufferable immature brat she is; but overall, it was still a darn good game. The battles were fun, with just the right dose of strategy and challenge to be entertaining without being frustrating, and the story mixed heartwarming, humorous and dramatic moments to great effect, with a couple of expertly handled plot twists to boot. Oh, and I'm totally mad about Kuon. Seeing her go away tore my heart out, and I swear I wanted to run after her, hug her and beg her to stay. Oh Haku, you're such a prick for putting Kuon and myself through that emotional wringer.

Since I mentioned the story, I'm kinda glad that it picked up the pace and offered more intense developments than these endless slices of life I deplored in my last post. I now see those as innocuous fillers, necessary to build up relationships between characters and lighten up the atmosphere — although these moments irritated me more than anything. I'm just a tad disappointed that the writers resorted to the overused 'Super Mode' trope; I've read a couple too many shonens exploiting that stuff to not get completely blasé about it. Also, the story was sometimes a tad too morally twisted for straight-laced old me: on top of Nekone lusting for her bro, we have Atuy's dad loving his daughter in a a suspiciously intense way, and Woshis using his personal posse of young servant boys as models for the yaoi mangas he secretly draws. But hey, this is pretty standard anime fare after all; and I sure played plenty of Vita games that were much more hentai-ridden than that without batting an eyelid, so I guess I have no ground for complaining.

With that said, dear fellow gamers, I'll see you later for Mask of Truth — that is, when I'm done importing it, which may or may not happen soon. Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Generation of Chaos - Pandora's Reflection: Grinding it my way

A couple of years ago, I would have sternly refused to play Pandora's Reflection without playing its two prequels first. But the times, they have a-changed; and since my gaming instinct was dead set on playing that game and wouldn't be swayed, I had no choice but to comply and play. And I'm glad I did, because I had an instant crush on Pandora's Reflection. I mean, it was simply impossible not to have a crush on an RPG that let me fight my first battle after two minutes and grind my party to level 15 in the first hour of play. It also looks deliciously PSP, with that unmistakable PSP fuzziness — and the annoying collateral effect that you cannot take screenshots. Last but not least, it has that telltale Sting quirkiness, with a weapon appraising system reminiscent of Hexyz Force and a fighting system that's an uncanny mix of RTS-lite and QTE-meets-Rhythm game.

Back when I got my paws on the Generation of Chaos PSP trilogy, I remember being annoyed by the fact that PR was the only entry that didn't get a physical release on our shores; but now that I'm playing it, I somehow understand why. This is a very bare-bones game whose development budget was probably close to non-existent: graphics are 16-bit level, the whole story is told through fixed screens with not a single cutscene in sight, and the gameplay is barely deeper than your average phone game. (On the other hand, PR is fully voiced, which makes me question Sting's and IF's sense of priorities.) The series has been dormant ever since the release of PR, so I guess that game was really Sting and IF trying to scrape enough money to give the series an ultimate instalment. Or maybe they wanted to ditch the series altogether and used that opportunity to go budget and try a couple of gameplay mechanics that were not typical of the series. Who knows?

At any rate, I'm enjoying that game. I love simple games as a rule, and I love grindy games as well; and given than PR is both simple and grindy, we very much have a match made in heaven there. It should surprise no one that I'm fighting Free Battles by the truckload, reaping metric tons of XP and fun in the process. But hey, how do you expect me to be fulfilled with one mere battle at a time? I know that's how SRPGs roll, but hey, I want more. It should also surprise no one that my grinding focuses solely on Claude and Yuri and that I've been playing solely with these two so far: they were the first two characters introduced, and as far as I'm concerned, they are the game's true heroes. Everybody else is a mere extra that may not even stick around till the bitter end for all I know; so as long as the game doesn't go all Luminous Arc on me by pitting me against a cheated boss, I'll cruise with Claude and Yuri alone. And mind you, I'm not sure I could play otherwise even if I wanted to; multitasking is not my strongest suit, and I already have enough trouble as it is keeping track of my duo's and their foes' manoeuvres without throwing extra units into the mix. So let's hope that Claude and Yuri alone will do the trick and that I won't come back to you with PR tidings involving extra units or untimely quitting, dear fellow gamers. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Utawarerumono-Mask of Deception: A bouncy ride

I'm not sure where this game and its story are headed, but I'm kinda happy to be part of the ride. Utawererumono: Mask of Deception (referred to as UMoD from hereon) is a strange beast of a game, a meaty visual novel with intermittent battle sections that doesn't seem to know exactly what kind of story it wants to tell and what kind of atmosphere it wants to craft. Things started ominously enough, with amnesiac hero Haku waking up in a completely foreign world and being rescued in the nick of time by mysterious lone ranger Kuon. Ensued a bunch of terrifying events, such as attacks by giants insects and bandits, and the introduction of a couple of interesting characters; combined with Haku's glaring disconnect with his surroundings and the burgeoning of a quiet yet intense relationship with Kuon, we were seemingly headed towards a intense tale of mystery, love and recovered memories.

A couple of hours later, things have derailed pretty severely. Ever since Haku and his small crew set foot in the Yamato Imperial Capital, the story has shifted focus from Haku's lost memories and attempts to understand his new foreign world to mundane events such as bath-dipping, chatting with merchants and cooking sweets. The game has also deprived me of my sweet intimacy with Kuon by throwing at my face tons of new female characters that eat a lot of screentime and have pushed my lovely Kuon into the background. For all intents and purposes, my intense tale of mystery, love and recovered memories has slowly but surely morphed into a slice-of-life harem anime. How did it get to this? This is not what I signed for, and this is certainly not what the game's early stages led me to expect.

Mind you, I wouldn't mind that change of tone that much if not for the fact that the new female recrues are all unsufferable brats and that the story is now brimming with the worst clichés under the anime sun. Tsundere teenage b*tch who despises the hero? Check. Unwilling peeping at naked female characters in the bath, followed by hefty punishment? Check. The hero being blamed by all the girls for a bad turn of events he's not even responsible for? Check. The list goes on and on, and so does the parade of annoying characters the game is throwing at me. Like, I've hardly gotten used to bratty tsundy Nekone, and now the game is pushing first-class spoiled little minx Anju on me, who is ten times the brat Nekone is! Can you please let me catch my breath between blows, game? To add insult to injury, Haku, and by extension myself, must endure a nearly constant assassination of character by this bunch of nasty broads. I'm routinely called a pervert, a slob, a bum, and blamed for this, that and the other. Heck, even loving and protective Kuon has joined the fray and started unwinding at my expense, going from a dignified mother-like figure to a grumpy teenager in a matter of chapters. And mind you, those girls are far from being perfect enough to judge me. Like, how dare Nekone, of all people, call me a pervert? Hey, I'm not the one lusting after my own brother here, b*tch. And how dare Rulutieh look down on me for having scantily clad females in my entourage, when she owns stacks upon stacks of graphic yaoi manga? Typical case of the pot calling the kettle black, if you ask me.

But hey, let's chalk up my dislike of the narrative's current style to the fact that harem manga and anime have never been my cup of tea; and let's heartily move on to the game's positive sides, the main one being the battle segments. Those battles are more than mere diversions: there's a real, solid fighting system at work there, with levels, skills, attack ranges and the like, and it makes those engagements really engrossing. Even better, you can actually level-grind by fighting free battles! Needless to say, I overindulged in said free battles, especially when the story got on my nerves. Cherry on the cake, steering my crew on the battlefield and seeing their awesome fighting prowess helps me forget their annoying antics and tantrums and makes me love them more. Other highlights are the great soundtrack, the easy-on-the-eye character design and the depth of the game world, which was given a lovingly crafted set of customs, myths, folktales and the like — heck, even confectionaries have their own dedicated entries in the glossary. And there's also the whole atmosphere — that is, if we ever get out of those slice-of-life, harem-ish meanderings and go back on track to pursue Haku's lost memories.

So here I am, enjoying the ride while fervently hoping that UMoD won't pull a Steins;Gate on me by bastardizing its own narrative beyond repair. I've been playing for roughly 15 hours, and if internet lore about UMoD is to be believed, I still have a good number of playing hours ahead. See you soon with more Utawarerumono tidings, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


New gaming year

Happy New Year, dear fellow gamers! One more gaming year under our belts — and my, what a fruitful and wholesome gaming year that was. Having said that, I'm not going to cover the gaming year as a whole and remind you of what we all know — the Switch et al; instead, I'm going to ramble about my own gaming year, past and to come. Here we go!

This was a very busy year as far as my playing was concerned, with more games and runs cleared than ever before. I've had a lot of free time this year as well as a ferocious drive to play games, i.e. the perfect combo; and since things are shaping up to be the same in the next months, you can expect a lot of posts and playthroughs in 2018 as well. The collecting front, on the other hand, has been a bit on the tepid side, with few games bought and a rather sloppy purchasing drive. I'm quite behind on my To-get-my-paws-on list, even neglecting to secure coveted Vita games despite promising myself to purchase such games day one to avoid missing on them. However, I'm confident my purchasing drive will come back before the Vita and 3DS are through; and since I'm not planning on missing on the ultimate releases for these two anyway, there will be a couple more gaming shopping sprees no matter what.

And talking about the Vita and 3DS ultimate releases... Eeeh, things are not looking too good on that front right now. The 3DS has a couple of appetizing games slated for release in early 2018, but there are no news of any games being planned beyond that; as for the Vita, 90% of the planned 2018 localizations are digital-only releases. Allow me to be totally unexcited about this, both as a collector worried about the future of the PSN and a buyer who wants the best value for money. That being said, I'd lie if I said I'm over-hyped about the 2018 Vita release schedule: apart from the lone RPG such as Rainbow Skies and Omega Labyrinth Z, there's nothing there that makes me jiggle with excitement. But I'll take what I can, and I'll take it gratefully. 2018 may see the end of both the 3DS and Vita, and I want to bid them farewell with as many game purchases as possible. Bring it on!

At that point, it's also safe to say that I will indeed purchase a Switch at some point. There are already a half-dozen games out there I'm coveting and just as many slated for release in 2018, which is more than enough games to justify a purchase — heck, I bought consoles for less games than that back in the days. While I don't think I'll buy the Switch itself in 2018, it's quite possible that I'll start stockpiling games, all the more so if 3DS and Vita releases trickle down to nothing in the second half of 2018. And with that, you have my gaming plans for 2018: lots of playing and blogging, as much collecting as possible and tons of gaming fun overall. I wish you a glorious gaming year, dear fellow gamers; and as usual, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!