Xenoblade Chronicles 2: 100 hours

I abandoned the story some 30 hours ago, somewhere at the beginning of chapter 8; and since then, I've been doing nothing but sidequests. It's nearly ridiculous how all the secondary stories about Blades and NPCs are ten times more engrossing and touching than the main story; but at least, that makes for really good sidequesting. I just love seeing regions develop and evolve, discovering my Blades' backstories and personalities through exclusive Blade quests and checking every now and then on NPCs I helped back in the early stages of the game. The main story might be the game's backbone, but the sidequests and secondary stories are undeniably the delicious, juicy meat around that backbone.

My plan for the time being is to grind my Rare Blades and fill up their affinity charts as much as possible. I managed to rack up a pretty decent roster, with only seven Rare Blades still eluding me. I'll be glad if they join the fray before I'm done with the game, but I certainly won't go out of my way to secure them not with the RNG being as unfair and screwed as it is in XC2. I already have enough to do with my current roster, trust me. I really love the variety of requirements for the Rare Blades' affinity charts: from grinding Merch Missions to killing exclusive monsters by the truckload (hello Zenobia), without forgetting collecting, quests and heart-to-hearts, there's enough variety there to ensure that you'll never get bored grinding your Rares.

And since I'm on the Rare Blade subject, I have to admit that most of the designs disappoint me. A couple of them are really original and interesting, granted; but for the most part, they're really vanilla and too anime-ish for my taste. Also, why are there so many female Rare Blades, why do male Rare Blades look more often than not like they're not male, and why is Dromarch the only animal Rare Blade? That lack of variety really hurts the Rare Blades roster; it's hard to be enthusiastic about discovering a new Rare when you're 95% sure it's gonna be yet another luridly-clad female. Also, a piece of my soul died when I read aloud the name of Poppi's third form for the first time and realized the cheesy, corny, lousy pun lurking there. Oh, well. That's what you get when you play RPGs marketed towards gamers young enough to be your own children, I guess.

Thanks to all that questing, my party is massively overleveled, with everybody lounging now in the mid-80s. That sure helps tremendously for sidequests, since most bosses and rares monsters involved in said sidequests can only boast a puny level 50-60. Easy-peasy! If I had to nitpick though, I'd said that it pisses me off to see Rex stall behind and level-up slower than the rest of the crew. Is he the bloody hero or not? Is it because he's the youngest here? Oh well, nevermind; I don't care that much anyway, since I've been playing with Morag for the last 40 hours. Oh, how I wish she could have been the hero of that sorry story instead of virgin boy Rex. I'm gonna hang onto her as long as I can, let me tell you that; and if I can get away with slaughtering the last boss with her, then I'll sure as heck do just that. But hey, not now! I still have plenty of quests to polish off, and I'll get back to the grind as soon as I finish that post. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Pokemon Ultra Sun: The Alolan Raichu Solo Run

It had to happen, dear fellow gamers: I had to put the sparkly face of the franchise, the most iconic and recognizable 'Mon of them all, through the solo run test. Or more like wringer in that particular case; but more on that very soon.

It pains me to admit that, but Pikachu is not good solo run material overall. In my personal solo run chart, he'd probably lounge somewhere on the mid-tier, around 'Mons such as Liepard and Rowlett — not horrible, but not stellar by any means either. Pikachu suffers from a bad case of limited offensive Move pool, so much so that I had to hang onto the same four Moves for most for my run — namely Grass Knot (Grass), Brick Break (Fighting), Psychic and Thunderbolt (Electric). Granted, that Move pool allowed me to dispose of most of the local fauna; but gosh, did it get boring to spam those four Moves after a while. Both Pikachu and Raichu are also afflicted with low HP and a truly abysmal Defense stat, which were a genuine thorn in my side during my whole run. I quickly lost count of the number of times my Electric lone ranger fainted, knocked out cold by a 'Mon with sky-high Attack. And it's not like he got to one-shot 'Mons with abandon, oh nooo: even in the late stages of the game and towering 15 to 20 levels above opponents, one-shooting was not guaranteed. I could never rest on my laurels with that most famous 'Mon of them all, and I had to strategize up until the last battle — which was interesting, but definitely not relaxing.

As for Alolan Raichu specifically, he's terrible solo run material — that is, in Alola. The entire issue stems from his double Typing: Pikachu gains the Psychic Type upon evolving into Alolan Raichu, which slaps three extra weaknesses on top of his Ground weakness. Those extra weaknesses happen to be Ghost, Dark and Bug, which is just the most unlucky setting ever in the Alolan entries. Because if you remember well, those games are the ones that took upon themselves to single-handedly rehabilitate those three often forgotten Types. We have a Ghost Trial and a Dark Trial, and then we have to fight Ghost Captain Acerola two more times — one of them being an Elite Four fight, thank you very much. And then we have bloody Guzma and his bloody team of bloody Insect 'Mons, fronted by a bloody powerful Golisopod that somehow always managed to strike faster than my Raichu. And oh, did I mention that we have to fight him three bloody times? I suffered a lot through that run, let me tell you that. To add insult to injury, Alolan Raichu's double typing doesn't even bring anything worthy to the table solo run-wise: he can only learn two offensive Psychic Moves, which is definitely not enough of a pay-off considering all the hassle caused by his Psychic Type. A truly indecent amount of Battle Items were gobbled during that run and dirty strategies were used, let me tell you that.

Although that Alolan Raichu run was definitely not the blast I had hoped for, it didn't make me swear off the series' mascot entirely. In fact, I consider that I have unfinished business with Pikachu: technically speaking, I still have to run solo with regular Raichu in a different game, which could change the course of things entirely. Given Pikachu's distribution, that different game would have to be X&Y or Red&Blue; and knowing those games' forgiving difficulty levels, I allow myself to think that the resulting Raichu solo run would be much smoother indeed. And of course, I still have to play Yellow and see if Starter Pikachu can reach the Elite Four on his own. As for my Alolan Raichu run, as much of a trudge as it was, it was redeemed nearly entirely by Alolan Raichu's unbearable cuteness. Gosh, hearing his cute little peeps and seeing his adorable happy expressions in Pokemon Refresh totally made me melt every time. Outstanding solo run material he is not; but when it comes to cuteness, he sure as heck lounges in the top tier. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Pokemon thoughts: The rumour mill + New solo runs

Since I've been playing US&M lately, I couldn't help but pay attention to the most recent Pokemon news; and oh boy, is there a lot of hype and excitement indeed on that front. Many a Pokefan is yearning for a Pokemon-related announcement at the upcoming E3, or a soon-to-come Pokemon Direct that would unveil the much-expected first Switch Pokemon instalment; and while such high hopes seem to be mostly wishful thinking, there are a couple of interesting rumours floating around.

The first one, and probably the most reliable yet vague of the bunch, was ignited by Junichi Masuda encouraging Pokefans to get their paws on a Switch at a recent Pokemon fan event. This seems to be confirmation, straight from the horse's mouth, that the series is indeed coming to the Switch. However, it's just that: confirmation that a Pokemon entry will be released on the Switch at some point, and that the series is indeed making the jump to Nintendo's newest piece of kit. And while it's nice to see Masuda confirm that Pokemon is indeed headed to the Switch, it's not really a groundbreaking piece of information. At that point, with the Switch being a viable handheld and a successful console, it would actually have been more surprising to see Masuda imply that the series was going to continue on the 3DS. Having said that, one cannot help but wonder why Masuda coyly dropped that comment in front of a horde of Pokefans. Is there really a Pokemon entry coming out in the next months, or is GameFreak trying to single-handedly increase the Switch install base so that the next Pokemon core game will fly off shelves as soon as it's released? Or is it just, indeed, a playful confirmation that Generation 8 will make its debut on the Switch? Well, I guess only time will tell.

Then we have Nintendo insider Emily Rogers "believing" that a Pokemon game will come to the Switch in 2018, and that this game will be an RPG and boast two versions. She also later stated that she didn't specify whether said RPG would be "a core game, a spinoff series, a remake of an older game or a Gen 8 game." In other words, this new pair of Pokemon games could be any of the aforementioned things. My guess is that if those games indeed exist and are in the pipeline, they will either be entries in a spin-off series or Gen 4 remakes. The spin-off series in question is most likely to be Pokemon Rangers or Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, if we assume that Roguelikes can be widely classified as RPG. The first two instalments of the latter came out in two versions, so there's definitely a precedent here. As for remakes of Diamond and Pearl, they've been hyped and demanded for such a long time that I can very well imagine GameFreak tackling them to try their hand at developing for the Switch, while at the same time giving fans what they want and not risking messing up and blotching a core game. Three birds with one stone! Of course, that mysterious new pair of games could also be brand-new spin-offs. Or it could also simply not exist, just like the western version of Mother 3 teased by the same Emily Rogers. Once again, only time will tell.

Then we have the most egregious rumour of them all, namely the Italian tranlastor 'leak' on 4Chan: a de facto announcement that a Pokemon core game is indeed coming to the Switch very soon, replete with story elements, new mechanics and artwork. Now this is nothing but a complete hoax, methinks. Making a living in the translation business is quite hard, and I cannot believe for a second that a translator who scored a gig with Nintendo would ruin their chances of ever working for them again, as well as their reputation in the translation business, by dumping crucial information about such an important game while simultaneously making themselves so easy to track down and identify. And talking about leaks and 4Chan, we also have the Starter 'leak', which features very cute and convincing Starter designs, but definitely wouldn't be the first occurrence of fake Starters gracing the internet. Then again, there were also genuine Starter leaks in the past years, so... Yeah. Once again, only time will tell if there's any semblance of truth in those flashy Gen 8 leaks.

Let's now move on to a favourite subject of mine, dear fellow gamers: Pokemon solo runs! A whole new avenue suddenly opened on that front, as I managed to successfully trade 'Mons between my copies of Ultra Moon and Ultra Sun. Combined to Ditto-based Breeding, this means that I can technically run solo with any Alolan 'Mon that can breed, including late-gamers that were not an option until then. On the other hand, things are not so straightforward, because the obedience issue must be factored in in solo runs starring traded 'Mons. I would have to monitor my lone ranger's levels carefully, which could be all at once a challenge and a hindrance: what if I hit a typing roadblock that requires leveling-up just as I'm about to reach the current obedience cap? Would Battle Items be enough to take care of matters, or would I have to risk desobedience for the sake of added power and pray Arceus that my 'Mon heed my orders in battle? Mind you, this wouldn't matter so much if S&M and US&M weren't the hardest entries in the series when it comes to all things battling; but being the tough nut to crack they are, I genuinely fear being completely stuck mid-run with a traded 'Mon. Well, I guess I won't know until I try the deed, now will I? Bring on that Ninetales Solo Run I've been fantasizing about for years! And with that said, dear fellow gamers, my Pokemon thoughts of the moment end here. As usual, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Redux

I restarted XC2 a couple of days ago, and I've already poured 40 hours into that new playthrough. Addictive game is addictive! As I expected (and hoped), that second run is infinitely more pleasant and engrossing than the first: I get a real kick out of knowing exactly what to do and being able to anticipate roadblocks and successfully circumvent them. Without further ado, here's a quick rundown of the activities I decided to focus on during that second playthrough.

Common Blade Grinding: Things are working pretty neatly on that front. I rotate my Commons in Merc Missions and have teams dispatched at all times; as a result, I've been able to rack up a number of Field Skills that I could only dream off during my first playthrough. Which leads us to...

Using Field Skills: I've been able to access a variety of places locked behind Field Skills this time around. The pay-off is not always stellar, mind you: most of the time, I'm only granted a safe or an item for my efforts. The pay-off doesn't matter, though, because the thrill lies in the act of exploring the world and uncovering secrets. Which leads us to...

Exploration: I want to leave no stone unturned this time: no matter how long it takes, I'll explore Alrest's every nook and cranny. Nothing compares to the thrill of discovering a hidden tunnel or being able to reach a cliff that seemed inaccessible at first — and let's not even talk about all those "Secret Viewpoints". I have a soft spot for Mor Ardain, which literally bristles with hidden areas and tantalizing places that challenge you to reach them.

Side Quests: Since I've been harnessing Field Skills, I can tackle side quests much more easily this time around. I've also been careful not to dive into questing too fast: first I explore, progress the story and level up a bit, and then I come back to formely explored areas to take care of quests. That tactic works like a charm, and I have a good number of cleared side quests under my belt as I'm writing this.

Area Development: I managed to make some good progress on the development front, mostly through trial-and-error. (Want to develop Gormott? Just shell out 500,000 golds for the Inherited Core Crystal at Margia's Odds&Ends in Torigoth!) Overall, area development seems to be tied to a mix of investing money — heaps of it — into local shops and clearing side quests, with a couple of extra arcane requirements thrown into the mix. I'm determined to Develop on my own and not resort to FAQs, because it's more entertaining and rewarding that way.

Affinity Chart Grinding: I was reluctant to grind Blade Skills during my first run, mostly because it screamed 'micromanagement' to me and I was already quite overwhelmed by the game's many features. However, raising Blade Affinity is actually quite fun and really not that demanding once you get the hang of it. I just use Merc Missions to grind all the Blades that can be dispatched, which leaves me ample amounts of time to pore over Pyra's, Dromarch's and Poppi's charts. And talking about Poppi, I was really determined to customize her this time around, but... I can't even beat the first stage of Tiger Tiger on easy mode! Why does that game need to be so hard? It's just an optional mini-game to obtain extra parts for a Blade that doesn't even really need them in the first place, darn it! Oh, well; screw Tiger Tiger, my Poppi is doing just fine as she is.

Miscellaneous: Remember when I said I would rewatch all cutscenes with the english dub? Yeah, about that... I found out that I just cannot bring myself to sit through them again. So I'll just resume where I left off, i.e. at the end of chapter 7. On the graphical front, I cranked up the brightness to the max in a flash of anger, as I was yet again stuck in an infuriatingly dark building; and not only could I suddenly see much better, but I also really liked the result. It gives the game a subtle cell-shaded look reminiscent of Breath of the Wild; and as a gamer who laps up stylized aesthetics in games, I can only approve of that new look. 

In a nutshell, that second playthrough is infinitely more enjoyable than the first, which confirms that this game does have indeed a lot of replay value. I was in a bit of a rush during my first playthrough, but I finally understood that XC2 is meant to be an epopee à la Dragon Quest IX, in which you take all the necessary time to build up your character and fully explore the world. That's exactly what I'm doing now, and I'm deeply enjoying the ride; and with that said, dear fellow gamers, I'll see you soon for more XC2 tidings. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Collector's Delight: (Giddily) presenting the New 2DS XL

I finally took the plunge and got hold of a New 2DS XL, a system I've been coveting for months on end but was reluctant to buy because of the ridiculously high number of 3DS I already own. But holy cow, was that a most inspired purchase indeed! In fact, I had such a massive crush on the system that I felt compelled to write a post about it without delay. Feast your eyes on the gorgeous Pokeball Edition of the 3DS' last iteration!

Let's face it, Nintendo released way too many 3DS models over the course of the system's lifetime. The way they kept churning out new iterations with increasingly confusing names, each one arguably better than the one that preceeded it yet bound to be topped by the next one in line, was both silly and maddening. They released no less than SIX bloody 3DS models over the last six years; factor in the region lock, and you get a true collector's nightmare. I own way too many 3DS for my taste, and half of them have been made redundant by their younger siblings. And yet, I'm ready to forgive Ninty for all their 3Ds meanderings; because oh dear, did they top themselves indeed with the New 2DS XL. Not only is this by far the sleekest and most gorgeous 3DS model, but it's also one of the best handhelds they ever created — period.

That piece of kit may lack 3D, but make no mistake: it vastly improves on both the regular New 3DS and the New 3DS XL on nearly all counts. Here's a quick round-up:

Screen: Oh boy, is that thing gorgeous. It's miraculously mammoth compared to the system's overall size, and it boasts strikingly vibrant and vivid colours that really pop out. Coming from the regular New 3DS, I definitely saw the difference — and mind you, the regular New 3DS already improved a lot upon the original 3DS in that department. The screen's black borders make immersion into games easier, and give the console's upper part a neat smartphone look to boot. The touch screen is also huge, just as large as the New 3DS XL's one.

Weight: The New 2DS XL is mercifully light. I weighed mine; and at 265 g, it's a puny 10 g heavier than my regular New 3DS, and an enormous 240 g lighter than my New 3DS XL. My wrists are definitely going to love that console, oh yes precious.

Looks: This is arguably one of the fanciest 3DS models, if not the fanciest. The elongated shape gives that ultimate iteration a really sleek and classic look. All four editions boast a pleasantly sober dual colour scheme, in striking contrast with the regular New 3DS' rainbow buttons and many faceplates.

Price: Although I'm not one to nitpick about prices when it comes to all things gaming, I'm also not one to sniff at a good deal. Being the cheapest New 3DS model out there, the New 2DS XL is definitely the piece of kit to go for if you don't care about the 3D. Considering that it comes with an adapter, unlike its two predecessors, this is definitely a bargain.

New 2DS XL vs regular New 3DS.

Of course, the New 2DS XL isn't perfect — no console is, after all. The stylus is a bit too small, the sound quality is lacklustre, and the mate finish looks a teeny-tiny bit cheap and gathers finger grease a bit too enthusiastically; but overall, we're still dealing with a darn good piece of kit. Nintendo managed to wrap up the 3DS line in a most glorious way with the New 2DS XL. It sure took them a long time to reach that level of perfection, and there was an awful lot of meandering along the way; but better late than never, right? In a nutshell: the New 2DS XL is awesome, I'm gonna get my paws on more of them — and I warmly encourage you to do that too. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Pokemon Ultra Moon: The Primarina Solo Run

After the XC2 mishap, I felt like I needed a lighter game to unwind and get back on track; and that's how I found myself picking up UltraMoon, which had been sitting in my collection for a couple of weeks. I unfortunately got the pair too late to get my greedy paws on the exclusive Dawn Rockruff, so I had to make do with the next best thing: Popplio, a.k.a. the last Alolan Starter I had to run solo with. I was lucky enough to snatch a female Popplio (can't help but think that Popplio's looks would have called for an exceptional reversal of the usual female/male Starter ratio); but woe is me, that female Popplio boasted a Sassy Nature — again!!! However, I was not in the mood to indulge in more RNG galore, and I decided to grind and bear it and run with the Popplio fate had granted me, hoping that overleveling would take care of matters on the long run.

As it turned out, there was definitely no need to worry about Popplio&evos' performance. The Alolan sea lion is simply one of the best Water Starters I've ever handled — on par with my beloved Piplup — and he's the most efficient and kick-ass of the Alolan Starters by a very long shot. Popplio's Move pool definitely makes the most of his sky-high Sp.Attack: nearly all the offensive Moves he can learn are Special Moves, and ridiculously powerful ones at that; that makes him a pure special attacker, and a ridiculously good one at that. My Move quartet was pretty much set during the game's second half, with Moonblast (Fairy), Ice Beam (Ice), Energy Ball (Grass — a Water 'Mon wielding a Grass Move, how broken is that??) and signature Move Sparkling Aria (Water): all insanely destructive Special Moves with a power in the 90s and beyond. Popplio's Move pool is also nicely diverse, with Moves that can take care of a wide variety of 'Mons; in fact, Ice and Fairy Moves alone can wipe out most of the Alolan fauna. Also, I've never encountered a 'Mon with so many Moves that can target several opponents. I swear that at one point in the game, all of my four Moves were multi-targeting Moves — quite handy in Trials, indeed.

Talking about Trials, the order in which they unfold is definitely in favour of Popplio, with little to no Typing roadblocks along the way. Not that it would change anything, mind you: the Popplio line, and more specifically final form Primarina, is so ludicrously overpowered that running solo with them entirely annihilates Ultra Sun&Moon's famed ramped-up difficulty and makes the games feel as plain sailing as X&Y. I can count on literally half the fingers of one hand the number of times I've used a stat-boosting item over the course of my entire run, none of these times including an Elite Four battle — as a matter of fact, I pretty much one-shot my way through the Elite Four. Long story short, Popplio is one of the most broken Starters I've ever had the pleasure of cruising with, and you should definitely choose him if you want an easy ride.

I was initially planning to tackle a single Alolan solo run; however, US&M's revamped 'Mon distribution made me change my mind faster than you can say "Gee, that 'Mon is super-duper cute and I've never run solo with it!" As a result, I have a couple more US&M solo runs lined up, and I'm going to tackle at least one or two of them in the upcoming days. Stay tuned for more Pokemon goodness, dear fellow gamers; and as usual, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!