Hitting the pause button

Hello, dear fellow gamers! Hope you're all doing fine, and gaming like it's going out of fashion. Alas, this is not the case for me; I'm so busy right now that I just cannot find the time to play games, let alone blog about them. And thus I'm writing to let you know that there won't be much new material here in the weeks to come. I'll get back to the grind as soon as I can; until then, take care!


Pokemon Crystal: The Venomoth Solo Run

There she is, dear fellow gamers: the shining star of my Crystal run, the 'Mon I never though I'd ever run solo with. To say that Venonat and Venomoth are rare is a gigantic understatement: half of the cannon entries don't host them at all, and the other half makes you jump through ridiculous hoops to even catch a glimpse of them. The only region where they can be found with relative easiness is Kanto; but alas, they appear so late there that a solo run featuring them was simply out of the question. Or was it? We already know the answer, of course; yet that was not the case when I started playing Crystal. My first foray into the game featured Rattata, in what I envisioned as a giant, epic 'Crappy Route 1 'Mon' solo run.  Alas, the thrill was missing: despite my Rattata's honourable battle prowess, I was kinda bored and plodded through Johto. As I had just set foot in Ilex Forest for a bout of grinding one quiet evening, the battle animation triggered; and time — and my heart — stopped when a Venonat appeared on the screen. I couldn't believe my eyes: what was that elusive creature doing here? I ran to Bulbapedia and confirmed the unthinkable: in Crystal, and only in Crystal, Venonat had a 30% chance of appearing at night in Ilex Forest.

That was the most unexpected and delicious gift from the RPG gods ever, and it led to an instant ditching of my Rattata run. I started a new game, rushed to Ilex Forest, and recruited an adorable Venonat I fittingly named Murasaki. My heart bursting with the giddy happiness of the Trainer that managed to catch the 'Mon of their dreams, I started leveling up my cute little bug for the trials to come. Not the easiest of tasks, that: my Venonat was a weak debutant, and I had to backtrack to Route 32 to even have a chance to survive battles. The many Bellsprouts roaming the area made my grinding smoother and faster, along with the conveniently placed Pokemon centre; and once Murasaki hit lv.12, I went and raided Slowpoke Well. Cleaning the place of the Rockets was a challenge that required several tries, but I finally triumphed. Once that hurdle was overcome, I knew that my Venonat's epic solo epopee had started for good, and that I'd pretty much be on a roll from then on. Or nearly so — but more on that later. 

When it came to Move pools, I didn't entirely leave things to chance as usual. The Veno line boasts an excellent leveling-up learnset, with the powerful Psychic triad Confusion, Psybeam and Psychic and the self-healing Bug move Leech Life — all Moves I learnt and made the most of. However, I wanted more: my beloved Return to replace the crappy Tackle, and Sludge Bomb to take advantage of the STAB and indulge (at last) in wielding a kickass Poison Move. A quick search on Bulbapedia revealed me the location of those TMs (which I'd totally never have found myself), and they quickly turned my already powerful Venomoth into a weapon of 'Mon destruction. The final touch came with the obtention of Giga Drain in Celadon City, which came to replace Leech Life right on time for Kanto's late stages.

Made you my b*tch too, just like your pal Blue ♪
So, how did little Murasaki fare through two Regions, 16 Gyms, one Elite Four and two Champions? Pretty well indeed, if I say so myself. She had the trajectory of a typical Bug 'Mon, i.e. starting painfully weak and slowly but surely growing into a powerhouse. Even after my initial grinding bout, I kept struggling for a while: the Azalea Gym was a pain because Bugsy's Scyther was stupidly sturdy and resistant to my best attacks, and I had to postpone Goldenrod City's fight against Whitney as much as I could because her Milktank was just too infuriatingly strong. It was pretty much smooth sailing after that, with only the random strong Fire 'Mon to worry about — nothing that Murasaki's stellar stats and Battle Items couldn't take care of. One-shooting soon became our bread and butter, making that run pure delight all the way through. I know of someone else who should be delighted about that run; and that's faithful reader Kumiko, who's a great fan of the Veno line. Here's to you, my fellow Bug 'Mon lover: the Venomoth run both of us never though would happen! And to all of you fellow Pokefans who appreciate the subtle charms of Bug 'Mons: rest assured that this is not my last run featuring one of those lovely creatures indeed. Take care — until next time!


Pokemon Crystal: A discovery

I've known and loved the Pokemon series for five long, delicious years. In those five years, I racked up tons of exciting runs and managed to play pretty much all entries from all Gens. Or nearly all of them: because indeed, the original Gen II games have managed to elude me until now. Not that this was a surprising or major feat by any means, mind you: with functioning Gen II cartridges being so darn rare and expensive these days, it was much cushier to renounce the Gold/Silver/Crystal trilogy and make do with the DS remakes. Still, I couldn't help but feel wistful at the thought that the original Gen II experience might be forever out of my reach... That is, until I stumbled upon a 15-euro digital copy of Pokemon Crystal in a game store. There it was: the opportunity to discover Gen II in all its authentic glory, brought to me on a silver platter. Sure, it was a digital game; but it was also very likely my one and only chance to get acquainted with Gen II without enduring battery hassle and insane pricing. And thus I caved in, and bought the thing.

However, once Crystal was securely nested on my 2DS' SD card, I found myself weirdly reluctant to play it. The main reason was simple: every time a potential run popped up in my head, I immediately started thinking that it would be better to perform it in HeartGold or SoulSilver and get the unbearably cute benefit of having my One and 'Monly following me around. That was a perfectly sound reasoning, but not exactly conducive to playing Crystal. Once I finally managed to start the deed, I quickly realized that my natural curiosity regarding videogame history wouldn't be enough to carry me through Crystal, and that my only hope of enjoying (and finishing) that game would be to uncover a 'Mon exclusive to it. Or, more precisely, a early Johto 'Mon that appeared solely in Crystal — that is, if there even was such a 'Mon in the first place. Turned out that there was one indeed — and what a 'Mon that was! The lucky winner was a rare creature I had renounced already, which doubled my joy of unearthing it. But I'm getting ahead of myself: before I recount that marvelous mystery run, I'm gonna indulge in a potpourri of my impressions of Crystal.

Still ugly as heck: It boggles my mind that Crystal offers no visible graphical improvement over Gen I beyond the titular colours of its hosting machine. Without even taking into account the release date, which should have guaranteed top-notch graphics by sheer virtue of being so late into the GB line's life cycle, the consistency of the graphics' shittiness is shocking and puzzling. If we set aside Red and Blue, which looked hideous because of their chaotic development cycle combined with a crippling lack of resources, it seems indeed that the series' long-running history of subpar graphical prowess started with Gold and Silver. I'd really like to know the reasons beyond GameFreak's apparent refusal to step up their graphical game with Gen II. Was the development team still uncomfortably tiny despite all the revenue generated by the Pokemon craze? Did the thrifty and canny habits contracted during Gen I's development cycle somehow carry over to Gen II's? Or was it sheer complacency, with GameFreak realizing that graphical crappiness didn't hamper the series' success one bit and simply deciding to take it easy from then on? Could it even have been a mix of all three, combined with other reasons I didn't think of? I'll sure have to do a bit of digging to solve that mystery now that my curiosity is roused.
The loose cannons: There is even less of a story in Crystal than in Red and Blue — and that's really saying something, given that those two barely had a story beyond chasing your rival and thwarting Team Rocket's evil plans while doubling as Professor Oak's little lackey. The red thread is even more tenuous this time around, starting with Professor Elm and his dubious friend Mr. Pokemon using me as a mere errand boy instead of entrusting me right away with that most important task of filling up the Pokedex. Now if you're gonna enslave me, at least give me noble tasks to achieve, dang it! Then there's Team Rocket, or rather its remnants: because indeed, we're merely dealing with a bunch of former Rocket executives on the run, trying to make do in Johto with petty criminal schemes. No big boss, no big evil plan anymore: just dejected, disorganized hoodlums that I encounter because we happen to cruise the same region. Last but not least, you have Silver, i.e. The Series' Most Random Rival Ever. There is just no. tie. whatsoever. between my Trainer and Silver. I literally don't know him before I catch him spying on Professor Elm; then we bump into each other outside Violet City, and that's pretty much the full extent of our acquaintance. Heck, I know the guy's name only because I randomly picked up his ID from the ground! We're not even really true blue rivals, when you think of it; more like Trainers with conflicting philosophies that run into each other on a regular basis. Long story short: no other Pokemon entry makes me feel so strongly that I'm a free agent, let loose in a world where everybody is too busy to bother with me. And I must admit it's kinda refreshing.

'Here we go, you Johto punk!' Excuse my French.
Lost in translation? Since I'm mentioning Silver, let me tell you about an interesting phenomenon that may or may not be exclusive to the french version of Crystal. That's the version I played, and it features the original translation from 2001; and lo and behold, that translation makes Silver significantly softer. While he's a rude and arrogant prick in HeartGold and SoulSilver, he's a much nicer chap in french Crystal: he still has an edge to him, sure, but he doesn't treat your Trainer like the scum of the earth. In fact, he goes as far as to call you "my little munchkin" and "my pussycat" at some point; and while there's a decidedly mocking ring to those terms, they're still much kinder than all the nasty crap he throws your way in HG/SS. And since I'm mentioning nasty crap, I had the hilarious (dis)pleasure of crossing paths — and swords — again with Blue, who was still very much the overly cocky, foul-mouthed brat I remembered from Gen I. Once a prick, always a prick indeed!

Well; that's about it for Gen II, as seen through the innocent yet experienced eye of a Pokefan that came long after the hype. It was entertaining and eye-opening, and it sure made me want to explore the early stages of the franchise as a game historian. The gamer in me, on the other hand, most definitely prefers the Gen IV remakes; and unless I unearth another 'Mon exclusive to Crystal, I'll most certainly favour HeartGold and SoulSilver for future Gen II runs. And talking about 'Mons exclusive to Crystal, I'll see you soon with my run report, dear fellow gamers. Take care! 


Random gaming thoughts

Jeez, has it already been twelve days since my last post? Oh, how time flies. I'm both super-duper busy and really tired these days, a combination that's hardly conducive to long and productive gaming sessions. At times like these, I would normally take it easy and fall back on Visual Novels; but alas, I have none to play these days. I'm so desperate for a VN that I tried playing Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom on the PSP, despite the fact that my first brush with the series on the Vita ended up with an aborted playthrough after mere minutes of play. There was no miracle this time around either: I gave up after an excruciating hour of plodding through what was probably the most boring dialogue I've ever endured in an otome. I kid you not: that game totally sucked my life energy. Then I tried Muv-Luv, despite knowing a good portion of the plot; but the ugly character design and dumb immature dialogue were too much to bear, and I gave up. I'll try it later, I promise; but right now, this is definitely not what I need. Replaying old VNs is out of the question, because I remember all of them way too well; and I simply don't have enough mental energy to dive into Point and Clicks à la Danganronpa or 999.

So here I am, stuck in virtual (non)gaming limbo, in a period where I'm making drastic changes to my life. What better time, then, to take stock of my gaming accomplishments and ponder what direction I want to sail towards in the next years? None, indeed! Gaming per se will undoubtedly follow me wherever I go, so there's nothing to ponder there; collecting, on the other hand... Now that's a whole other can of worms.

Let's face it: I've grown increasingly bored of collecting in the past two years. My Collector's Delight and Coveted Games posts have gotten scarcer and scarcer until disappearing entirely, along with my purchases of collector treats such as Special Editions. Collecting, which used to be an immense source of joy, has slowly but surely turned into a chore of sorts. My current dissatisfaction with all things collecting stems from two main reasons:

  • Being a game collector just takes up way too much space — like, physical space. I hate cluttering and item overabundance; and thus the mammoth number of games currently lounging on my shelves makes me feel seriously restless. So much useless plastic, so much room taken! 
  • Most importantly, I've gotten over the fetishist side of collecting — the whole 'sniffing booklets and gazing at box art' shebang. I used to be the most hardcore game manual aficionado, prizing those booklets like they were holy scriptures; nowadays, not only are there no more gaming manuals to cherish in brand-new physical games, but I know RPG mechanics so darn well that I don't even need manuals. In fact, the last times I tried to read the booklet before playing a game, I grew bored and dropped it after two pages. As for box art, it's always the same anime-ish crap anyway — so much so that my sister, who doesn't play RPGs at all, can identify the games I covet in a display rack solely by looking at boxes. Totally true story. 

In a nutshell: I've become blasé about the useless fluff that surrounds game cartridges. I was always in for the gameplay, for the games themselves; and I bought them physical first and foremost for the sake of perennity. Whatever pleasure I derived from satellite elements such as booklets and box art is long gone, and there's no telling if it will ever come back. And thus I've taken a momentous decision: I'm going to throw away all boxes and booklets, and hold solely onto cartridges and UMDs.

Rest assured, dear fellow gamers, that this is by no means a rash and sudden decision. In fact, I've been pondering that move for months now. I want to simplify things, to go back to the sheer pleasure of the gameplay experience, without any interference. And I already have a preview of what a cartridge-only collection might feel like, which is none other than my GBA/Game Boy library. That library is solely composed of bare cartridges without the slightest trace of a booklet or an original box; and yet, I love and enjoy those games no less than my boxed ones. I'm ready for that major step, and I'm gonna take it, one game at a time.

Then, there's the matter of the Switch Lite and Pokemon Sword&Shield. I'm getting seriously hyped up about those games — there, I said it. A limited Pokedex was never an issue for the serial Pokemon solo runner I am, and I totally dig the idea of a Pokemon region inspired by England. And then you have Galar Ponyta, who's tugging at my heartstrings like crazy. See, I'm kind of a closeted Brony: I owned a couple of Little Ponies as a kid and have the fondest memories of crafting all sorts of adventurous stories around them. And Galar Ponyta looks insanely like a '90s Little Pony, which triggers all sorts of nostalgia attacks in me. I want to run solo with him! I have to!

And since I'm mentioning Pokemon solo runs, I'm currently wrapping up one of these — because when you're low on gaming juice and want to play something low-maintenance, Pokemon is the next best thing to a VN indeed. I'll see you soon for the inevitable run report, dear fellow gamers!


Persona Q2 - New Cinema Labyrinth: Final thoughts

This time, I'm done for good! And with hindsight, I might as well have abstained from going all the way to the final boss. Sure, crawling the last labyrinth was oddles of fun, especially after I snatched those SP and HP replenishing skills I mentioned in my last post; however, the final showdown was a major pain in the arse that left me with a sour taste in the mouth. Being forced to polish off a preliminary boss rush before I could even engage the final boss was already galling enough; but that was nothing compared to the final boss itself, which was such a massive overpowered HP bag it was not even funny. With the Safety setting firmly in place, that ultimate fight was a mere battle of attrition as far as I was concerned; but being able to rise from the dead after my whole party was slaughtered — which happened twice during the fight — didn't make the whole thing less unpleasant. That fight was a bore and a chore, with battle animations lasting forever and no strategic challenge apart from trying to wrap up the fight in less than one hour. Not that I would have wanted to change the difficulty setting to make things more challenging, mind you: that boss is so utterly OP that I cannot even begin to fathom how to beat it on regular difficulty — nor do I ever want to try. But let's see the positive side of things: I now have a Clear Game save that will grant me New Game + benefits if I play PQ2 again! And before I part with that game, let's go for a good ol' Pros&Cons list, shall we?

The Good:

  • The fighting system — or, to be more precise, the Boost and All-out Attack features. So deliciously OP, so ridiculously satisfying! Being able to wrap up fights in a single turn with a glorious animation as the finishing touch is just the stuff dazzling RPG combat dreams are made of. Fun fact: it took me several hours of play to notice that All-out Attacks were linked to Boost — but you can bet your arse that once I noticed it, I indulged in triggering All-outs like it was going out of fashion. Heck, I didn't even bother fighting and simply ran away when All-outing was not possible — that's how hooked on the whole thing I was. 
  • The Persona 5 cast: I though I could not love them more, but that was before learning that Joker's design was inspired by a black panther. Seriously? Now you're really tugging at my heartstrings, Atlus. Long story short: I adore that crew, I want to handle them again, and I already made arrangements to borrow my brother-in-law's PS3 to play the original Persona 5. Oh, and I'm sure as heck buying the upcoming Persona 5 remake-slash-reinterpretation for my future Switch.

The Bad:

  • Labyrinths were frigging hideous. They didn't even have the barren charm of old-fashioned budget FPDCs à la The Lost Child; you could feel that the developers put some effort into trying to make them look good yet failed entirely. The fourth labyrinth was a particularly low point, with its garish colours and ugly contraptions — I swear I nearly gave up to spare my poor retinas. Seriously, the labyrinths from the first Etrian Odyssey were prettier, lusher and more evocative, and that was twelve years and one console generation ago. Granted, the fifth labyrinth was much more palatable; but alas, it was pretty much a case of 'too little, too late' at that point.
  • Too much Persona megaverse-ish fan service. I know that's the entire point of the Persona Q series, but still... The whole thing could have been handled better, methinks. There were too many cutscenes that existed for the sole purpose of making cast members from different entries bond or butt heads, and the game tried way too hard to draw parallels between said cast members. The last thing I need to have planted in my head before I dive in the canon Persona series is the notion that each entry shamelessly recycles the same character tropes, thank you very much. 

The Ugly:

  • The fifth labyrinth and final showdown are entirely pointless. Not only do they feel like some sort of bastardized postgame butting in before its time, but they also somewhat undermine the impact of the preceding epopee. (Spoilers!) Helping Hikari overcome her psychological hurdles was deeply satisfying, and Doe would have been a perfect final boss to wrap up the game. Having to beat HP bag Nagi to rescue a whole posse of faceless lost souls I didn't even get to interact with was complete overkill: there was no more mystery to uncover, and no attachment whatsoever to these people I was supposedly fighting for. (End of spoilers) If I ever replay PQ2, I'll definitely stop at the end of the fourth labyrinth like I initially planned. 

 All in all, it was a darn good game. It made me want to play both the canon Persona series and some genuine FPDC — the kind that leaves you alone with (and in) the dungeons, with no interruption, handholding or cutscenes whatsoever. Should I play one of the two right now? My gaming instinct will run the show, as always!


Person Q2 - New Cinema Labyrinth: My work here is done...

... Or is it? After wrapping up the fourth labyrinth, I was ready to bid PQ2 goodbye: not only was my run clocking at a respectable 46 hours at that point, but I got a lovely conclusion involving (spoilers) Hikari overcoming her inner demons and gaining the necessary strength to pursue a happy life. This outcome was so satisfying that the idea of cruising yet another labyrinth to rescue poor souls stuck in the same predicament as Hikari-chan felt perfunctory. I got my happy ending, now I'm outta here! (End of spoilers)

Music to my ears.

... Or so I though. But after taking a couple of steps in the final labyrinth, I... I want to keep playing! Not only is that final labyrinth the most gorgeous of the bunch by far, but I'm really just starting to master the whole Persona business for good and all. I want to fine-tune that mastery just a tad more before my first foray into the canon Persona series — and have fun doing so while I'm at it. Having said that, I still feel like I mostly had my fill of PQ2 — pun totally intended — and thus I'm gonna drop all the sidequesty fluff and focus on exploring that final labyrinth and refining my Persona mastery. Here's what I want to achieve during that last stretch:

  • Let my Fab Five learn Vorpal Blade and Invigorate 2 through Sacrifice Fusion. The former is the perfect boss killer; as for the latter, it will allow me to cruise longer in labyrinths without having to worry about my SP. (Then I'll have to worry about my inventory being full, but that's another matter.)
  • Let my dungeon navi learn Paths of Light and Roads of Light, and my battle navi learn Victory Cry — for even more insane HP and SP replenishment. 

And... That's all, I guess! Apart from maintaining my full elemental coverage all the way through, that is. I gave up on my plan to grow specialized Sub-Personas dealing with a single elemental field; not only is it way too tedious to achieve, but it can be downright counter-productive in battle when triggering Boost requires two elements handled by the same character. Things are working just fine with my Sub-Personas handling mixed elemental skills; and so I'll keep cruising that way until the credits roll. And talking about this: back to da grind — again!


Persona Q2 - New Cinema Labyrinth: Late stages

33 hours in, fourth labyrinth. I'm just done slaughtering the most obnoxious boss EVER, namely the despicable Mother Computer. Not only was the fight properly interminable, but the game had the nerve to force me to use some very specific elemental attacks lest the whole thing became totally unwinnable. How dare you, Atlus! This is nothing but a big fat case of fake difficulty, and it royally pisses me off — even though I did have the necessary skills to progress. Still, I swear I would totally have ragequit — and ditched PQ2 entirely for good measure — if not for the Safety setting, which allowed my whole party to rise from the ashes after biting the dust and continue the fight as though nothing had happened. Seriously, PQ2's difficulty is sometimes so extreme it's not even funny. I can only hope that this is the Etrian Odyssey side speaking and not the Persona one, because I really don't want to struggle that much when I finally decide to tackle the series.

Awesome characters talking about awesome subjects = Match made in heaven.

Anyway, I still love PQ2 just as much as ten days ago. I could do with slightly less cutscenes and characters, granted; however, I have to admit that the whole Persona lore and the crew from older entries are growing on me, and my desire to play said older entries is getting stronger by the cutscene. As for my original crew, well... I have to find a way to experience Persona 5 even if it's the last thing I do! Anime, manga, future port, borrowing somebody's PS3 — anything, as long as I get to see them evolve in their original setting. I don't know why, but I just love them to pieces! It's been a long time since a video game cast delighted me that much: not only do I dig their looks to death, but their personalities and demeanour really resonate with me. Were I twenty years younger, I would have drawn comics and fanarts featuring them — heck, I'm an mere inch from doing that anyway. I kid you not: my current wallpaper is a Persona 5 art — that's how hooked on that whole Persona 5 thing I am right now.

And talking about, well, Persona, I'm refining my mastery of all things Personas. I now have a clear view of what I want to achieve when it comes to Sub-Personas: since my crew's main Personas naturally wield and learn Curse, Electric, Bless, Fire and Ice abilities, I'll focus on developing Wind, Almighty, Psy, Nuke and Physical abilities for my Sub-Personas. As a matter of fact, I've already done so, but in a completely slightly haphazard and disorganized manner, which resulted in many of my Personas wielding the exact same skills. I want to streamline and simplify that whole business, and have each secondary Persona specialize in a given ability; then I can cherry-pick my favourite Healing and Buffing skills, and add them to the mix for good measure. I'm not too sure I can achieve that goal before the end of my run, because a) I'm starting so very late and b) I still have a lot to learn regarding Persona growth and fusion; but even if I don't, that will most certainly be the blueprint for my future Persona playthroughs.

I'd like the fourth labyrinth to be the last, but let's face it: there will probably be a fifth labyrinth acting as the final dungeon. And as much as I love PQ2, I'm actually not quite sure I'll have the energy to finish it in one smooth go: as far as my play meter is concerned, that game should end around the 40-45 hour-mark, lest we tread on 'Too much of a good thing' territory. Maybe I should wisely take a small break from PQ2, or play another game in parallel as a breather? Oh well, we'll see. Back to da grind for now!


Persona Q2 - New Cinema Labyrinth: It's a true love story

I love that game! I love it! I always say I don't give a crap about characters' personalities in my RPG, but PQ2 might be the exception that proves the rule. I adore my crew, and I'd like nothing more than to see them strive, grow and prosper in the game they hail from. Given that Persona 5 is still a PS4 exclusive and that the planned Switch port is shaping up to be a totally different game (which I'll probably buy anyway, let's face it), that probably won't happen any time soon. To compensate for that sorry state of affairs, I decided to stick dutifully with the Persona 5 crew when characters from older Persona entries started raining on me; I own all of said older Persona entries and I'll play them in due time, so I'd rather enjoy the Phantom Thieves when I get to. And since PQ2 won't let me run solo, I'll perform the next best thing to a solo run, i.e. an Initial Party Run: I'll stick with my original five fab through thick and thin, until the credits roll. I would gladly have played with the lovely Noire; but alas, she came too late into the mix, and with a giant five level-deficit to boot. Sure, I could use my Growth Incense on her for instant leveling-up and party integration; but let's face it, I'm just too used to my crew's dynamics to change anything now. And now that I unlocked Unison Skills, I have even less reason to ever want to switch party members. Sorry, not sorry!

Let's now talk about the famed Persona system, shall we? I love it! To pieces! It's so much fun, and so darn addictive! It took me quite a lot of time and experimentation to even get the gist of it; but I have a good grip on it now, and I'm succeeding more and more in crafting Personas that fit my fighting style. Since I'm playing on Safety Mode, and since I'm a brute that loves nothing more than to nuke everything on the battlefield, I'm favouring multi-hitting elemental attacks and strong physical attacks with a Boost bonus attached. And since I'm mentioning Boost... Oh, the glee! I know nothing more exhilarating than to surgically target all foes' weaknesses and wrap up the fight with a lovingly devastating All-Out Attack — and extra XP for the road. This is one of the most positive feedback loops I've ever encountered in an RPG fighting system, and it sure as heck encourages me to choose my skills wisely.

I'm smelling a whiff of yaoi fan service here.
You might notice that I'm only raving about the Persona side of things, dear fellow gamers, and rightfully ask "But what about da dungeon crawling?" Well, about that... The more I play PQ2, the more I'm convinced that it didn't need to be a crossover at all. The Etrian Odyssey side is so underrepresented and brings so little to the mix that it might as well not be there at all; the game could perfectly have taken place in regular dungeons and nothing of value would have been lost. In fact, I'll go further and say that the Persona side saps the EO side and makes it kinda pointless. EO's two main assets, namely its immense crawling freedom and its autarkic crafting system, don't get to shine at all in PQ2. The former is destroyed by the constant cutscenes, tutorials and narrative railing; and the latter is made redundant by the Boost system, which emphasizes elemental matching in battle rather than mere gear stats. I daresay that we're nearly dealing with a case of 'too much of a good thing' here: there's a mite too much to do and think of — draw maps, avoid FOEs, watch cutscenes, sell loot, find and manage Personas — and it can be overwhelming at times. Less is more indeed, especially as far as my RPG tastes are concerned.

Anyway, do you know what all that means, dear fellow gamers? It means that I'm gonna have a big fat blast when I finally decide to play a true blue Persona game! In fact, I'd do just that right now, if not for the fear of overkill. Let's clear PQ2 first, shall we? And since I'm mentioning this, I have a couple of Personas waiting to be fused. Back to da grind!


Persona Q2 - New Cinema Labyrinth: Off to a good start

So, I'm currently playing what will henceforth be known as PQ2. Why make my first foray into the vast and ever-expanding Persona universe with a spinoff series, you may ask — and the second instalment to said spinoff series to boot? Well, the answer is twofold. First, I just purchased this game, and I wanted to indulge in the all-too-rare pleasure of playing a game right upon acquiring it. Secondly, I dislike crossovers as a rule; and thus I wanted to play that game without any knowledge of the Persona lore and pretend that I was dealing with a particularly inventive Etrian Odyssey spinoff.

I'll admit it: things didn't go well at first between me and PQ2. I had the fondest memories of Etrian Odyssey's first labyrinth and its soothing vibe — the lush greenery, the ethereal music, the crisp sound of my feet in the grass; so suffice it to say that I was not exactly enthralled by the ugly urban landscape and the faux-jazzy theme track of its PQ2 counterpart. And my gripes with the game didn't stop here: I was also seriously aggravated by the lack of exploring leeway and the overabundance of cutscenes, which contrasted nastily with EO's exhilarating freedom and lack of interference in the player's business. And don't get me started on combat, which managed to be both boring and irritating due to an uncanny combination of overall slowness, hysterical theme track and obnoxious interjections from the crew. Also, why were there so many darn doors to open along the way, and why did opening them always go hand-in-hand with an unskippable animation? In a nutshell: I didn't like what I saw, and I was just an inch from shoving that darn cartridge back into its box after an hour of play.

Then I remembered that I was dealing with a spinoff indeed, rather than with a canon EO game; differences were thus unavoidable, and I had to welcome them if I ever wanted to enjoy PQ2. I had to embrace such changes as the cast getting mammoth amount of screen time: while EO gave you blank slates with no backstory, Persona seems to be all about memorable personalities and chara development. I had to come to terms with the absence of the deliciously intimidating vibe that engulfed me whole when I played EO, and embrace the wackier and sparklier vibe of PQ2. I had to suck up the relative lack of freedom, the absence of solo options, and the presence of a story that was more than a mere pretext to roam dungeons. I just had to discover PQ2 and learn to love it for what it was, period.

A couple of hours and adjustments later, I can say I reasonably succeeded. Since this is no true blue EO, I had no qualms about selecting the lowest difficulty level — if I have to endure a million cutscenes, better make the ride smooth and relaxing! I then proceeded to study my crew and get to know them inside out — if I have to roll with established characters, better make the most of them indeed! I've also gotten used to the flow of battle, and I'm starting to seriously dig the lively, zany, colourful vibe of the whole game — especially stuff like the All-Out attacks in battle and the characters' flourishes when opening doors, which triggers sweet memories of superhero animes and detective cartoons from my childhood. Last but not least, I play it my way by indulging in as much level-grinding and farming as I want — which probably explains why I still haven't gotten past the 2nd floor after 4 hours of play.

And since I'm mentioning this: let's get back to the grind! It's safe to assume I'm on a roll now as far as all things PQ2 are concerned; expect thus more ramblings about that game very soon, dear fellow gamers!


Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker's Memory: All's well that ends well

On every front, mind you — including the narrative one. That story ends up much better than I had dared hope for (spoilers!): Chitose is rescued from the claws of Eden Syndrome without any major sacrifice, Keisuke remains BFF with Yu, Erika gets her dearest wishes granted, Ryuji gets his sanity back, and nobody kicks the bucket. Hooray! The only one suffering is poor Keisuke, who's the sole retainer of memories from the Hudie epopee and now has to live knowing that he'll never again meet Erika. But hey, little Yu is still around, and more than ready to fill in the spot left by Erika — in all possible ways! I deem this ending absolutely perfect: it's bittersweet without being heart-wrenching, and it makes me appreciate the story, and the whole game, even more. (End of spoilers.)


Not that I really needed more reasons to love HM, mind you: my 52 hours of play were absolutely delightful, and I enjoyed every single minute spent with my Digis. I cannot find a single flaw in that gem of a game — bar maybe the fetch quests, which were as tedious as they were pointless. Why make me look for NPCs all around the place when you could as well have fed me cutscenes, game? Good scenes such missions were few and far between, and the areas involved mercifully small.

I'm sure no one will be surprised to hear that the final showdown was a cinch, despite being a two-phase fight. I went at it with an full inventory and a kickass trio made of Dianamon, Ouryumon and Slayerdramon, and I quickly fell into a comfortable — and deadly — battle rhythm: Ouryumon and Slayerdramon dealt the main damage with their Special Moves, while Dianamon dished minor damage and handed healing and replenishing items when necessary. The fight was over in a matter of turns and with no major hassle, giving my run a smooth and satisfying finale. Gee, I love when level-grinding pays off!

I don't have much to add, all the less so as a good week has passed since I cleared my run. I loved that game, and I'd sure like to replay it at some point. There's just a small issue: I only have a digital copy, whose perennity is far from being guaranteed. Is it worth investing in a ludicrously priced physical copy, knowing that I already own a physical copy of Digimon Story - Cyber Sleuth, i.e. the original game? I'll mull over it; and as usual, my collector's instinct will have the final word. And now, on to the next game!


Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker's Memory: The Dream Team

Back to business, and back to HM! As I'm inching closer to the final showdown, my party has reached its final form and is now pretty much set in stone. And thus it is time, dear fellow gamers, to let you feast your eyes on the Digis that have cruised with me until now and will keep doing so until the credits roll!

Dianamon: My oldest and most beloved Digi, she's been there pretty much since the beginning. She didn't evolve from my starter, but rather from the second Digi I recruited, an unassuming Renamon. I dutifully stuck to the 'rabbit in the moon' branch of her evolution line: not only did it give me the pleasant feeling that I was dealing with the same creature all along, but that branch's forms are all unbearably gorgeous and stylish — and reminded me nicely of Sailor Moon to boot. Her battle prowess is pretty underwhelming, especially in boss fights where she hits like a baby bunny; but she's been at my side for so long that I simply cannot think of letting go of her, no matter how unefficient her punches are. 

Hououmon: My second oldest Digi, and probably the most active in battle throughout my run. That fiery bird only took a step back in all things fighting lately, after a very long spell where he was my main asset in random encounters as a Garudamon. Not that it changes anything, mind you; like his fellow Dianamon, Hououmon has been part of my team for so long that I'll stick with him until the end, even if he doesn't lift a feather during the final fight.

PlatinumNumemon: A.k.a. It's Raining XP. I have three of them, and it's solely thanks to that trio that my whole party is now lounging at lv. 99 — and thanks to fellow gamer Kumiko, who kindly taught me how to obtain those creatures. I didn't expect any sort of battle prowess — or even assistance — from them, but they pleasantly surprised me by: a) Being sturdy as heck with their absurd 999 defense, and b) Wielding all sorts of useful skills, starting with a revival spell. They also learnt Texture Blow, Character Reversal and Venom Trap through their evolutionary trip; and oh boy, did those skills come in handy indeed — especially the latter, which poisons upon hitting. Poisoning in Digimon is the most vicious thing: not only does it last forever, but poison damage is doubled every turn. Needless to say, I copiously resorted to Venom Trap to get rid of bosses with high defense and HP, with a splash of Character Reversal when necessary and a sprinkle of Texture Blow on top when I was in a really sadistic mood. My three gilded piles of poo can now rest in the back until endgame; their work here is done, and well done.

Ouryumon: A.k.a. the Boss Destroyer. That dragon was one of many Digis I raised for experiment and entertainment purposes, and I didn't expect much from him; so imagine my shock when I dragged him from the rearguard to replace a fallen Digi in a boss battle and nuked said boss in two turns with Ouryumon's Special Move! Seriously, Eiseiryuoujin is so utterly broken it's ridiculous. Not only does it land criticals nearly every time, but it's insanely powerful; factor in its wielder's sky-high attack, and you get a real weapon of boss destruction. I swear I took down some HP bags in a matter of turns with that skill, and I wouldn't be surprised if the final showdown turned into a cinch with Ouryumon by my side.

MetalGarurumon (Blk), Sakuyamon and Slayerdramon: A.k.a. the tourists. So far, these three haven't strut their stuff much on the battlefield, with each participation being little more than a cameo. They're good and I can clearly see their potential; alas, there's simply not enough room for everybody to shine in that team. Will they get their moment during the final showdown, only time will tell!

Although my party is kinda crowded, much more numerous are the Digis I discarded as I cruised through the game. I lost count of the number of creatures I recruited and raised, only to Load them mercilessly as their looks and/or battle prowess failed to enthrall me; one of the first victims of that treatment was none other than my starter Betamon, who turned out to be little more than a placeholder keeping the seat warm until better Digis came along. No loyalty, no shame! That constant raising&recycling of Digis is a tad cruel; however, it's also quite entertaining, and it's undoubtledly a key part of the Digimon series' DNA. And with that, dear fellow gamers, my ode to my party comes to an end. My run is about to as well, so I'll see you soon with the obligatory final post about my Digimon epopee. Come on team, now's the final push!


Pokemon LeafGreen: The Venusaur Solo Run

It had to come to this: a solo run with the granddaddy of all Grass Starters, the venerable and immensely popular Bulbasaur. And oh boy, is that immense popularity well deserved. I though Treecko was the best Grass Starter the series had to offer; but it turned out that Bulbasaur is even better, and by a couple of leagues to boot. It's sadly ironic that GameFreak managed to nail the Grass Starter formula perfectly the first time around, only to squander their knowledge in the matter and deliver a host of unbalanced Grass Starters as gens went on.

Bulbasaur is the utter embodiment of what I've always thought Grass Starters should be: a late-blooming 'Mon with stellar defensive stats and decent attack stats, who slowly but surely grow into a powerhouse as levels pile up. That process is neatly symbolized by the growth of the giant flower on Bulby's back — a coincidence that's too perfect not to be intentional. My first steps with the grassy creature were definitely tedious: while the early Gym Leaders were a cinch, I was routinely hindered by the most unlikely opponents of them all, namely the Bug Catchers littering Kanto. My Bulby (fittingly renamed Hibiscus) was way too weak to take down those pesky insects in one turn (or even two or three, for that matter), especially with his non-effective Grass Moves and the infuriatingly inaccurate Tackle; as a result, battles dragged on, and only Bulby's natural sturdiness prevented him from being knocked out cold before the end of hostilities.

Only after Misty's Water Gym did my little Hibiscus become powerful enough to one-shoot the opposition; and from then on, there was no turning back. The rest of my run was a complete cakewalk, with Gym distribution in my favour and random Trainers quickly and neatly submitting to Hibiscus' indomitable strength. The only true issue I encounter while cruising Kanto was PP depletion, which forced me to backtrack to the nearest town on a regular basis; but since I was fortunate enough to get hold of both Fly and the bike early on, those forced detours hardly hurt. But back to combat: I only struggled ever-so-slightly during the Pokemon League showdown, which forced me to strategize for a change; and after hours spent blazing through Kanto with nary a worthy opponent to hinder me, that change of pace at End Game's doors was most welcome.

My Move pool was a complete Grass fest: Leech Seed, Vine Whip, Bullet Seed, Giga Drain and Razor Leaf all came to adorn it, and Solar Beam would have too if not for its two-turn nature that makes it totaly unfit for solo endeavours. I was a bit miffed not to be granted an offensive Poison Move that would have taken advantage of Bulby's secondary Type; but with Gen I being Gen I, I cannot even pretend I was surprised by that oversight. I stumbled upon Return by complete happenstance, and was more than delighted to get rid of bloody Tackle; then, I snatched Earthquake in the Viridian City Gym, and slapped it on my Bulby in lieu of the immensely useful but weak Bullet Seed. Better late than never, indeed! Tiny yet eminently efficient, that's how I'd describe Bulbasaur's learnset — especially in Kanto.

Since I'm mentioning Kanto, that region was even more impossibly grindy than in my memories — which, as you may imagine, totally delighted me and soon put me in the sweetest trance. What had failed to imprint in my memory, on the other hand, was the annoying segment on the south islands. First, I was forced to cross the darn tedious Pokemon Mansion before I was allowed to tackle the Fire Gym; then, before I could Fly back to the mainland and the next Gym as I planned, I was kidnapped by Bill and sent on a unskippable fetch quest while he chilled out with Celio. Was that part always that irritating? I guess it was, although I failed to remember it. Oh, well.

Yup, I've made you my b*tch. Suck it up.
At any rate, I'm now done with the Kanto Starters, and I understand better Bulbasaur's enduring popularity. Not only is his design top-notch and totally cohesive with his slow growth, but said slow growth also perfectly complements Charmander's lightning fast one. I'm now itching to replay the Gen I remakes with Squirtle and see if he falls perfectly in the middle. And with that, dear fellow gamers, the 2019 Pokemon Summer Season comes to an end. New gaming shores await! As for blogging, I'll be cut from internet during the next two weeks, so don't worry if you don't hear a peep from me. Or, to quote one sore loser I vanquished not so long ago: smell ya later!


Pokemon Y: The Raichu Solo Run

This is it, dear fellow gamers: after Pikachu and Alolan Raichu, I'm now tackling regular Raichu and clearing my unfinished business with the Pikachu line. And in yet another entry, no less! I've seen enough of Pikachu in Gen I to not want to handle him again in that gen; not only is his battling prowess there pretty underwhelming, but cruising Kanto with him again would be boring as heck. Better let him strut his stuff in mellow Kalos indeed, all the more so as he can be recruited before the first Gym!

Since I already have a honest-to-god non-evolved Pikachu solo run under my belt, I had no qualms about letting my kalosian Pikachu cross the evolutionary Rubicon as soon as I got hold of a Thunder Stone. I had even less qualms as he started showing signs of weakness around Ambrette Town, with the Rock Gym being a particularly low point. Only a fiendish combination of Battle Items, avoiding Trainers, the Rocky Helmet, Rock Smash and heaps of luck got me through that roadblock; and as soon as I snatched the Thunder Stone on the outskirts of Cyllage City, I let my Pikachu evolve with a giant sigh of relief.

From then on, it was pretty much smooth sailing, with only the occasional tricky battle here and there to ruffle my slick progression. Regular Raichu's learnset is even more impossibly shallow than Pikachu's and Alolan Raichu's, with the use of the Thunder Stone preventing the acquisition of any new Move through leveling-up. My Move pool was pretty much set at the halfway mark, with Return, Grass Knot, Thundershock and Thunder Bolt; I knew from my experience with Pachirisu that such a Move pool worked quite neatly for an Electric 'Mon, so I had no complains at all.

Since I really itched to pet Raichu a bit in Pokemon Amie, I used the opportunity to test something I had wanted to verify for the longest time, namely if the XP-boosting effect of the Two hearts of affection and the Lucky Egg add up. The answer is: yep, they do add up. Now that's pure insanity! I rushed through the second half of Kalos like never before, skipping tons of Trainers and racking up Gyms like it was going out of fashion. I also finally dared to give many complimentary areas a pass, just to see if I would miss the items they hosted. The answer is: nope, I did not. Only now can I allow myself to admit how much the overabundance of items in Kalos irritates me, and how much I hate going out of my way just to get a crappy Ball or an healing item I can buy by the dozens. I swear that from now on, I'll only make detours to pick up the Rare Candies and Evolutionary Stones.

And with that, I'm done with the Pikachu line for good. What's my verdict, you may ask? Well, good ol' regular Raichu is the best by a long shot, with its one and only Type weakness that makes it superior to his Alolan counterpart and his buffed-up stats that give him an edge compared to his pre-evolution. And talking about this: what was all that fuss about Pikachu not wanting to evolve in the anime because he would get slower in the process? With a speed of 270 at lv.100 without any Nature benefits, my Raichu was crazy fast, and certainly much faster than he was as a mere Pikachu! Ah well, that wouldn't be the first time the anime contradicts the game's lore, now would it? And with those fatalistic words, my work with the series' mascot is done. And also my X&Y adventures for the summer, because I've had my fill of Kalos indeed. I have one more solo run to cover before the 2019 Pokemon Summer Season is over; and then, dear fellow gamers, we can sail together towards new gaming shores!


Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker's Memory: Smooth sailing

35 hours, 13th chapter. By all accounts, I should see the credits roll around the 50-hour mark, which still kinda surprises me — for even though internet wisdom claimed that HM offered 50-ish hours of play, I somehow didn't want to believe it. But hours fly as missions and chapters roll by, and I finally fathomed that the Digimon series is not going to deliver the same kind of compact, swift runs I've come to expect from the Pokemon series. Which, by the way, is totally fine. It's actually quite awesome to get such different experiences from both series, and to know that each of them can profusely scratch gaming itches that the other one can't come close to reaching. Now I'm dying to try Yo-kai Watch and see where it falls between Digimon and Pokemon.

Another thing that wildly differs between HR and your average Pokemon entry is the relationship I'm building with their resident creatures. While I always get that strong, intense bond with my One and Onlies in the latter, I find it a bit harder to get genuinely attached to my team in the former. It's not just the fact that my party is currently teeming with Digis-in-training, with a perverse inverse correlation between the size of my crew and the intensity of my affections; it's also the fact that all the back-and-forth between Digivolutions and the sometimes wild form changes involved in said Digivolutions make it harder to get attached to Digis. I don't really feel — and really don't feel in some cases — like I'm dealing with the same creature at all, and it does a serious number on my fondness for the involved Digi. To alleviate that feeling of alienation, I'm trying my hardest to stick to similar forms into a given Digivolution line, with reasonable success so far. But more on my winning team later!

For now, I want to say how much I love the story. I though I wouldn't care whatsoever after a couple of hours, but the opposite is actually happening: I'm getting more and more emotionally involved by the chapter. Oh, how it's gonna hurt when I get slapped in the face by the sad ending — because there's no way this game can end up otherwise than very badly indeed. (Minor spoilers!) My heart already kinda broke when poor Chitose was left with Eden Syndrome; and while I fervently hope there's a way to cure him down the line, I have a hunch that it's gonna involve some heart-wrenching sacrifices. Also, I'd bet my arse that K is actually Yu in disguise; and the though of it really breaks my heart in advance, because I've gotten attached to that shy friend of mine. Or not-so-shy in some cases: I swear my heart skipped a couple of beats during the ferris wheel sequence. Why, I could totally feel the intensity of the boy's repressed lust, and the sheer entanglement of his complicated feelings towards Keisuke. This is not just otome level — it's better than 90% of the otomes I've played.

Oh, Yu animal.

And oh, Erika. Forget the whole 'Defrosting Ice Queen' theme: she was the one who pierced my heart, as I found myself tearing up during the hugging scene at the end of chapter 11. This was not your usual dere-dere moment, when you're supposed to feel all happy that the cold b*tch finally opened her heart; it was a genuine emotional cracking, a character folding under the pressure and letting it out before composing herself again and getting back into fighting mode. And my, did it feel raw, intense and most, importantly, authentic — the kind of thing that does actually happen IRL. Seriously, my heart totally belongs to Erika and Yu now, which was probably the writers' fiendish intent all along. (End of spoilers.)

Also Erika, because I cannot choose. Can I have 'em both, game? Pretty please?

Anyway, I followed my fellow gamer Kumiko's wise advice regarding Digi growth; and my team now comprises three PlatinumNumemons that make XP rain on us all. Oh, the glory! Seeing my crew rack up levels so fast all of a sudden had an hypnotizing effect on me, and I'm currently deep into a bout of level-grinding. I'm concurrently starting to figure out the mechanics of skill learning, and thus I'm going to use the opportunity to switch between Digivolutions and have my Digis learn a couple of neat skills for the fights to come. It's pretty safe to assume that my team has now reached its final form and that no new recrue will join the fray in the next five chapters — although you never know, of course; so I'll wait a bit longer for that post about my awesome crew. At any rate, it's back to the grind now — see you later for more juicy Digimon tidings, dear fellow gamers!