Yo-kai Watch: Definitely not for me

Next pawning indeed.
Let's set the scene, dear fellow gamers: as I was hovering around the Nintendo area in a supermarket for the first time in weeks, I suddenly spotted the Yo-kai Watch 2 pair of games. Remembering that this was the only famous monster - collecting series I had not touched yet, I was tempted to just pounce and grab them — of only because it had been so darn long since I last secured a game in a brick and mortar store. Fortunately, I managed to hold myself back, thanks to the very sensible thought that I'd better check first if the series was my cup of tea at all.

That's how I found myself booting up my Yo-kai Watch cartridge that very evening, eager to get my answer. As you guessed already, that answer was resoundingly negative, and the rest of the series won't be granted access to my precious collection indeed. Not only that, but I'm going to pawn my cartridge as soon as I can, because there is virtually no chance I'll ever touch that game again. I won't elaborate since I played for hardly 20 minutes; suffice it to say that the first battle was the decisive point. No matter how tolerant I am towards RPG battle systems, I just cannot accept a battle system that doesn't even let me input commands. Full automatic combat is where I draw the line, folks; and thus Yo-kai Watch and I are not meant together. Needless to say, I'm so glad I didn't purchase the sequels on the spot.

Next pick maybe?
And now, on to the next playthrough, which will hopefully be longer and more conclusive! I just finished FFII and started Animal Crossing: New Horizons; and, to my utter surprise, I find myself really wanting to play Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition. The gaming instinct wants what it wants, indeed; and if this bewildering choice of its is more than a whim, then I'll be more than happy to comply. I'm also itching for some Fire Emblem; and soon will come the days of my annual revisitation of Pokemon X&Y. I'll see you soon with all that gaming goodness, dear fellow gamers; until then, keep gaming and take care!


Final Fantasy II: Growing up

I'm shamelessly stealing the title of a post written by my fellow gamer and talented fellow blogger Geddy, because that title describes exactly how I feel about my FFII run right now. The walkthrough I'm following tells me that I've polished off two thirds of the game already, which places the end mark at roughly 25 hours of play. I can deal with that, all the more so as I refined my FFII routine to near perfection. See for yourself the novelties since my last post, dear fellow gamers:

— I upgraded my gear, going from Mythril sets to even more powerful stuff: Giant accessories, fancy elemental Armours, deadly weapons such as Orichalcum and Wing Sword — you name it. Thanks to that and to my dutiful grinding, my party is blatantly overleveled, and vanquishing bosses in a matter of turns without major HP depletion — let alone fainting. As you may expect, I'm not complaining.

— There was a time when money was hard to come by; but that time is now well and truly over. I'm currently swimming in money à la Scrooge McDuck; and since I'm hardly using any item and hardly purchasing any new gear, I'm saving that money faster than I can spend it. A little bit more, and I'll be able to stock up those absurdly expensive Elixirs for the game's late stages.

— The 'Ambushed!' occurrence rate is slowly but surely diminishing. It remains a mite too high for my taste; but it's still much more bearable than a couple of hours ago, when half of the dungeon encounters were Ambushes. That would already be nice enough, but there's more: I'm now getting a Preemptive Strike even now and then. Joy and glory! It may look like I'm going full Stockholm Syndrome, getting overjoyed when the game stops roughing me up and throws me a bone; but don't worry, I'm fully aware that FFII is majorly and laughingly biased against the player, and I'm chuckling at my own masochism.

Well, that's is for the new stuff. My run is pretty much on autopilot now, with only the occasional surprise to stir me from my grinding transe. Surprises such as being ambushed by Green Souls, and... having them healing my party, because that's apparently the only move in their arsenal. Best foes EVAH! Gee, FFII can be a dear when it really wants to, can't it? And now, dear fellow gamers, it's time for me to dive back into my delicious grinding routine. I'll see you later with my 4th — and hopefully last — FFII run report. Take care and keep gaming!


Final Fantasy II: Smooth sailing

Since I fully embraced cheating, I've been enjoying the sweetest routine with FFII. I first check where I'm supposed to go in the walkthrough I selected; then I walk there while vanquishing every living thing that crosses my path; then I do what I'm supposed to do — rinse and repeat for the last 8 hours. Délicieux! I've progressed nicely since my first post, as you may see:

— Each character now has their dedicated weapon: the sword for Firion, the dagger for Maria, the axe for Guy, the mace for the guest party member. This specialization brings back lovely memories of my Octopath Traveler run, and makes me wanna dive right into it again.

— Everybody is fully decked out in Mythril gear — weapon, armour, accessories, the whole pimping shebang. I even went as far as to purchase an extra set of Mythril for the guest party member.

— I raised my party's stats so ridiculously much that their Defense capped, meaning that it's not affected anymore by Shields. I can thus remove the latter and give the crew two weapons, which will certainly come in handy in tougher fights.

— Everybody learnt the Fire, Blizzard, Thunder and Cure spells, and I'm busy making those spells deadlier — or livelier — through focused grinding.

Talking about this, did I mention that grinding is smooth as heck in FFII, and pleasurable to the extreme? And it's far from being the only thing I love in that game, oooh yes precious. I love the possibility to take the long or short way when travelling; I love the vastitude of the game world, which awakens sweet feelings of gaming fernweh; I love the charmingly intricate graphics, which are the most exquisitely detailed ones I've seen this side of Nihon Falcom's RPGs; I love the whole atmosphere, which feels pleasantly familiar yet catchingly unique. All that love doesn't prevent me from nursing a couple of pet peeves, which go as such:

— The map is too darn hard to reach. Seriously, Squeenix: ○ + select? Why? The map should totally have been on the □ button, instead of the laughingly useless bestiary.

— No instant travel between places. Given the scales at work in FFII, that would definitely have been a nice touch. Granted, I love roaming all over the world map; but an instant travel option would have been appreciated, for the rare times I want to speed things up.

— Guest party members leaving the party and taking loaned equipement with them. You bloody thieves, you! I have to save and strip them before they take their leave in order to keep my Mythril set for the next guest.

— Too many darn 'Ambushed!' occurrences, especially in dungeons. This keeps going even though my party is overleveled and doesn't take any damage; a utter and complete loss of time, that's what it is.

 — Too much of what I'd dub 'trap rooms' in dungeons. They're dead-ends that don't contain the slightest bit of treasure; the only thing they have to offer is a higher encounter rate, just like those infuriating one-step-one-encounter patches in Final Fantasy I. Did anyone say 'fake longevity'?

— The HP depletion when using the Teleport spell: now that's plain mean and unfair, game. To add insult to injury, that spell doesn't work in several locations because reasons, and there's no teleporting item that can replace it.

That's a lot of pet peeves alright, but don't worry: they hardly mar my experience of FFII, which is overwhelmingly positive. And talking about this: back to da grind! I'll see you soon with another grinding progress report, dear fellow gamers; in the meantime, take care of yourself and keep gaming!


Final Fantasy II: Early stages

I was initially planning to give Romancing SaGa 3 the old college try; however, my plans were changed by a seemingly innocuous event. I wanted to get on with pimping up my PSP's library by following Geddy's excellent advice; upon taking the machine out of its pouch, I noticed that the battery was completely depleted. That kinda surprised me, because I was sure I had played my beloved PSP not so long ago. I went looking for my last PSP post — and got the shock of my life: I last played one and a half year ago. One and a half year ago, folks! How is that even possible? Of course, something needed to be done right away, namely giving that poor lonely piece of kit some much-needed love; and that's how I found myself enthusiastically tackling FFII — because indeed, I'm still very much in a grinding mood right now.

I've been playing for two hours, and that was more than enough to spot FFII's sheer experimental quality. This is a very daring game, all the more so considering its release date. The original Final Fantasy was content to merely follow in Dragon Quest's footsteps; FFII, on the other hand, walks its own rocky, pioneering path. Not only does it boasts a open world — which, while not entirely unknown in 1988, was still far from being the norm — but it also gloriously introduces the intuitive, non-linear character progression system later featured in the SaGa series. I was seriously astounded by that discovery, because I assumed that all Final Fantasy entries featured a regular leveling-up system and that SaGa was the series that first injected non-linearity in all things leveling-up. But it seems that things didn't happen that way indeed: instead, the non-linear character progression system was rerouted to the SaGa series after debuting in FFII.

This raises a number of fascinating questions, such as: why was that system removed so quickly from the FF series? (Educated guess: because players didn't like it, or because Squaresoft wanted to explore it in an ad hoc series, or both.) Was the SaGa series created especially as a vehicle for that system? (Educated guess: most likely.) Beyond that, it lets us imagine what would have happened if FF had kept sporting that system, and fantasize about a totally different RPG landscape: a landscape with no FFVII to introduce us Westerners to J-RPG, where Dragon Quest would be the unamovible turn-based RPG reference, now and for all eternity, and FF would be the forever niche contender. Now that sounds like some seriously good parallel universe stuff.

But I digress, dear fellow gamers; let's go back to my run. As much as the gaming historian in me relishes FFII's sheer forwardness and originality, the gamer in me is a tad miffed by that unexpected turn of events. See, I expected an uber linear grindy fest similar to the original FF, which would allow me to lose myself in grinding; instead, I got an avant-garde, non-linear (in every possible sense), where-do-I-go-next-ish RPG. The thing is, this is not what I wanted to play — neither now nor ever. I seriously pondered quitting, until I got a much better idea: cheating! I'm going to run to a walkthrough, and use it to erase all that fake longevity uncertainty regarding what I'm supposed to do and where I'm supposed to go next. Then I can keep the good parts, i.e. da roaming and da grinding. I consider this fair game, especially since FFII plays it nasty by forcing me to rove a world map that's much bigger than it needs to be. Jeez, it seems that the habit of inflating open worlds didn't start with Xenoblade, now did it? With that said, I'll see you soon with a fresh run report, dear fellow gamers. Take care and keep gaming!  


Romancing SaGa 3: Am I missing something here?

Romancing SaGa 3: a cult classic game, whose recent — and first — arrival on our shores was rightfully celebrated. It's the last, and supposedly most polished instalment, of one of Squaresoft's most cutting-edge subseries (i.e. Romancing), itself part of a mythical experimental series (i.e. SaGa). It's a game that, by all accounts, I should absolutely love: and yet I don't.

Not to love a game I fully expected to love is already vexing enough; and to add insult to injury, the things I dislike in RSG3 are aplenty. It starts with the 'revamped' graphics, which erase the original's loveable 16-bit-ness and replace it by an ugly phone game look; it goes on with the unbearably slow battle system, which transforms each fight into an drawn-out chore; it ends with the confusing in medias res story, which is too hard to follow for its own good — and for a choral RPG.

And since I'm mentioning this, let me say that I'm also bothered by RSG3's similarities to Octopath Traveler, starting with the Recruitable Party Members system. I know that technically, RSG3 was the pioneer here, and the game that first introduced that system; yet Octopath Traveler was the one I did play first, and it seriously casts a shadow over my experience of RSG3. The gaming historian in me would like to explore RSG3 and uncover what was a groundbreaking novelty at the time; yet the gamer in me isn't having any of it and grumbles that if I really want to play a choral RPG, Octopath Traveler and its quality-of-play improvements would be a much better pick.

That being said, I'm not writing off RSG3 just yet. I acutely remember that my first experience of OT was pretty lacklustre as well, and that I needed a good number of tweaks and hours of play before I started enjoying it in earnest. Changing my MC in OT really did the trick, and maybe it could change my fortunes as well in RSG3. The general consensus seems to be that Katarina is the best MC for a beginner; so I'll try rolling with her, all the more so as she was one of the characters I seriously considered — my other picks being Mikhail and Harid, which I tried to no avail. The battle speed and ugly graphics cannot be alleviated, but I can probably get used to them over time. In brief: I'll try again, and if it still doesn't gel, then I'll give up with my conscience clean. And so, back to da grind!


Bonds of the Skies: Baby's first Kemco RPG

But not the last, perish the thought. I just made my Kemco RPG debut, a whopping 30 years after I played their stuff for the first time; but trust me when I say that indeed, I won't let another 30 years pass until I go Kemco again.

We did indeed.

Following that heartfelt declaration, I'd like to write a ton about BOTS; but to be honest, that game is kinda hard to describe. The best I can say is that it's perfectly generic, yet perfectly wholesome. It ticks all the 'serviceable RPG that somehow encompasses all 16-bit RPGs' boxes, from the Secret of Mana-ish graphics to the snappy first-person turn-based combat à la Dragon Quest, without forgetting the roamable word map, the stronger gear in every new town and many more charming 16-bit RPG tropes. To put it simply: anything you love(d) in 16-bit RPGs, you'll probably find in BOTS.

You'll also find a number of neat quality-of-life improvements that may or may not have been a thing back in the '90s, such as instant save, sidequest end messages, tweakable battle speed and the like. Last but not least, BOTS is pleasantly manageable: in roughly 20 hours, you can accomplish everything there is to accomplish, from maxing out all characters' levels to acquiring every single skill. Not only does the game offer a reasonable number of goals to achieve, but it's also perfectly upfront with said goals. For instance, unlike some RPGs that viciously hide sidequests, BOTS kindly lets you know when you're done polishing off all sidequests — and it lets you know in-game, not as a trophy. It's probably the first time I ever encounter an RPG with completionist velleities that also utterly respects the player's time.

A special mention must be given to the narrative, which manages the tour de force to be totally unintrusive yet intensely compelling. In fact, it's probably one of the best story progression I've ever had the joy of following in any RPG, ever. How could they pull that off? How could they offer such clear goals, yet give such delicious leeway to accomplish them? How did they manage to revisit the uber-cliché 'mankind doesn't need gods' theme in such a refreshing and touching way? How did they know exactly where to insert cutscenes in order to get the best emotional impact? How did they manage to create such familiar yet engaging characters? A tour de force, I'm telling you.

And then there's the postgame, which is hands down the best postgame I've ever had the joy of playing — and I mean that quite literally, mind you. You know postgame is not my cup of tea, dear fellow gamers: as soon as the credits roll, my drive to play plummets, never to rise again. But not this time: this time, I wanted to keep playing, because Kemco fiendishly designed the most gripping postgame ever. Most gripping because:

It's short. On top of being draining, long postgames have an infuriating way of making the main game look futile and pointless — thus insulting the player who poured time and energy into said main game. BOTS wisely avoids that pitfall and keeps it short and sweet. If you grind dutifully all through the main game, postgame will hardly occupy more than 1/20 of your total playtime — case in point, I spent roughly 30 minutes on it for 20-or-so hours of total play.

It's challenging. Short it may be, but BOTS' postgame is tough as nails nonetheless. It challenges you to a couple of extra bosses, including an final, OP one that I only managed to beat by the teeth of my skin despite being at max level. Needless to say, I lapped it all up.

It's a closure. This is Kemco's true stroke of genius when it comes to BOTS' postgame: to actually make it an epilogue, and to give the player a major role in making it happen. To play an epilogue is just a million times more satisfying than to simply watch it — especially when said epilogue gives you all sorts of warm and fuzzy feelings like BOTS' one. I'll admit it: I even teared up a little.

Well, well, well; that's actually a lot of writing for a game that was supposedly hard to describe, ain't it? To sum it up: I loved Bonds of the Skies, and I'm most certainly going to play more Kemco RPGs — maybe in a very near future, because I'm currently in a very grindy mood indeed. I'll see you soon with my gaming instinct's next catch, dear fellow gamers; take care during those rocky times!