Fire Emblem Echoes - Shadows of Valentia: Ce n'est qu'un au revoir

After a bit of meandering, my gaming instinct's verdict is now clear: I'm done with FEE for the time being. I might have forged on if Berkut were the final boss; but given that he's not and that there's still another short, but still whole act after him, I'm throwing in the towel. When I play FEE again (because indeed, I'll definitely replay that hidden gem of a game), I'll make sure to grind early on; and since I know now what to expect, that second run will undoubtedly be much more streamlined and satisfying.

Not that my first run wasn't satisfying already, mind you; in fact, I daresay that Echoes is my favourite FE entry so far. Apart from all the goodness I mentioned in my first post, I'm extremely fond of a number of playthrough-altering features. Those include the absence of offspring units, which is a blessing in disguise as far as I'm concerned because it spares me the cumbersome task of playing matchmaker on the battlefield. They also include the wonderful possibility to play with all units at all times, sparing me the heartbreak of ditching some promising characters along the way and the hassle of replaying the game just to cruise with them. And how could I not mention the deeply and wonderfully strategic battles, which forced me to get out of my comfort 'charging like a bull' zone and rack my brain in earnest to make it out alive?

On the 'room for improvement' side, I would have liked an exhaustive quest log to save me from all the blind backtracking I had to endure to fulfill sidequests, as well as the possibility to hold more than one item per unit. More subtle and developed storytelling would also have been a must, especially during segments such as (SPOILERS!) Alm's and Celica's conflictual second parting, which loses all its emotional impact because of how shockingly rushed it is, or Alm's discovery of his lineage, which is digested way too fast and smoothly. (END of SPOILERS) Well, at least I cannot complain about cutscenes overstaying their welcome, now can I?

Of course, a FE wrap-up post wouldn't be complete without a list of my favourite units. I'll keep the finer details for my next run reports; for the time being, suffice it to say that Alm, Celica, Lukas, Clair, Python, Mathilda, Clive, Tatiana, Zeke, Leon and Sonya were absolute little darlings of mine for reasons both futile and profound, ranging from their looks to their battle prowess.

FEE contains little romance, and certainly no active wooing the player can perform; however, that didn't prevent me from indulging in a darling little FE habit of mine, i.e. spotting a couple with potential and rooting for them. And so, my own Best Couple Award for Echoes goes to Tatiana and Zeke, a pair that's both sweetly endearing and hot as heck. We'll see if Celica and Alm, another couple I really fancy, end up stealing the top spot once I'm done with the story. I also kinda ship Clair and Lukas, despite them not being a canon pairing; and Mathilda and Clive manage the tour de force to be classy and hilarious at once, which earns them an honourable mention in my FEE couple ranking.

Long story short: I love that game, I'll certainly replay it again, and I'll finish is while I'm at it. For now, new gaming shores are beckoning or maybe not so new indeed, if I obey my gaming instinct that currently presses me to play Three Houses. See ya soon with more gaming goodness, dear fellow gamers!


Fire Emblem Echoes - Shadows of Valentia: What now?

My first 25 hours of FEE went by without a hitch. Sure, there were a couple of tough battles here and there, some of which I barely escaped alive; but overall, it was smooth sailing. However, things took a turn for the worst upon entering the Fifth Act: that basterd Berkut sent me packing, wiping away a good chunk of my advance in the process. I was rightfully salty, but also a bit discouraged: to encounter sudden resistance after nearly a whole run spent progressing swiftly is ten times more disheartening than to struggle right off the bat. The game led me to expect an easy ride all the way to the end, and now it's slapping me in the face with tough-as-nails battles? Not fair! This sudden change of gaming fortunes led me to take a step back and ponder my next move. After a bit of musing, I see four courses of action:

 To put my run on hold: Not only do I feel like I've had my fill of FEE already, but Three Houses is stamping its feet and screaming for attention. Wouldn't it be better, then, to humour my gaming instinct and come back to FEE later with a fresh mind and renewed fondness?

To force my way through: Berkut was nearly done for when he put an end to my prowess and progress by nastily taking Alm down; this makes me think that I could win that battle with a bit of strategic tweaking. Of course, I would hate to cross the Temple of Duma only to lose again against Berkut; but still, that's definitely worth trying.

To grind like a beast: A.k.a. Me Life and my go-to solution when I struggle in an RPG. I could go back to the Fear Mountain Shrine and farm some Silver Marks there to improve my weapons. That dungeon also hosts a Cantor, which is a most convenient foe for grinding purposes: its sole move is to summon Gargoyles, thus providing potentially endless waves of leveling-up fodder. The only thing that stops me from running there right away is the game's stinginess when it comes to granting XP; with my crew boasting the levels they boast, it could take hours before I manage to buff them enough to steamroll Berkut.

To restart a more streamlined run: A very tempting option, I must admit. I resorted to it when playing Fates, and it just saved everything my run, my fun, my love for that game, you name it. Not only that, but I really enjoyed Echoes' early stages, and I totally wouldn't mind replaying them again with added mastery of the gameplay's ins and outs.

I'm still on the fence right now, with all four options looking equally appetizing. I'll tell you more when my gaming instinct is done settling the matter, dear fellow gamers; until then, take care and keep gaming!


Games I love that I will never play again

The (awesome) idea for that post came from my talented fellow gamer and blogger Geddy, who developed it first on his (no less awesome) blog Nostalgia Trigger. It was just so good that I had to make a version of my own; without further ado, dear fellow gamers, here are my 'Games I love that I will never play again'!

Balloon Kid: Not only is that game one of the highlights of my formative gaming years, but it has plenty of things going for it. Those range from its innovative and stellar physics, which were groundbreaking at the time and still are to this day, to its wonderfully evocative soundtrack — including that impossibly wholesome masterpiece, which remains one of my favourite pieces of gaming music ever and will probably forever be. And I cannot not mention its first level, which encompasses everything first levels should be about: the giddiness, the wonderment, the feeling of discovery, the joy of being ushered in a new world. As though all this were not enough, I also have a special and unique memory tied to BK: one fine mid-'90s afternoon, my cousin and I decided to join forces and finish the game, which up to that point was still unbeaten by both of us. We found ourselves a quiet little spot under the shade of a tree, and took turns playing; and lo and behold, we finally beat the darn game by the skin of our teeth, after nearly dying a thousand times. Epic! I just have to love that game, because it means so much to me; and yet, I really don't want to replay it ever again. The only part I truly enjoy playing is the first level, and I know the layout so well that I could nearly do so with my eyes closed; that's not nearly enough to motivate me to get my paws on a cartridge, let alone to actually play it.

Luminous Arc: I had a blast playing that SRPG back in 2017. The leveling system was deliciously broken, which led to one of my longest and most ridiculously massive grinding bouts ever; and although I ultimately failed to subdue the final boss, I was left totally sated by my 20 hours of LA. So sated, in fact, that I don't feel the need to touch that game ever again. I mean, I power-grinded the MC all the way up to lv.99; what could there be left to accomplish, apart from following a story I don't care one bit about and vanquishing a final boss I don't care one bit about either? Add to this a cumbersome control scheme and a glacial battle pace, and you'll understand why I don't want to play Luminous Arc ever again despite having only good memories of it. As a matter of fact, I'm so sure of my decision here that I pawned my cartridge not long after my playthrough. When I'm in the mood for some LA again, I can roll with the three sequels, which I all own, and let the original be a 'once in a lifetime' experience.

Myst III Exile: Unlike the other entries on my list, this one never appeared on the blog, and for good reason: I played it in 2009, when diving back into gaming was but a bittersweet dream and blogging about it was lightyears away from my radar. Emulation was my only tenuous link with gaming at the time; yet that summer 2009, I managed to get my paws on a physical copy of Myst III, and immediately proceeded with playing it as I was conveniently on holidays. I spent the next three weeks glued to the game, gobbling pots of (insert name of famous Italian hazelnut spread) to give me fuel for the brain; and since I had no internet at the time, I had to rely on the power of said brain alone to take me through the game. It was arduous, but I finally succeeded — creating one of my most memorable playthroughs ever in the process. I still remember those days with vivid clarity: the summer heat and light, the spoons of hazelnut spread, the feeling of constant challenge, the joy of finally solving a puzzle and, most importantly, the game's unique atmosphere, which sucked me in and made me totally obsessed with it. That playthrough was so deeply mesmerizing that I don't want to ever touch Myst III again, because I know fully well that subsequent runs wouldn't feel so utterly magical. And with the game having never been ported to any console, it's not like I risk stumbling upon it, now is it?

Xenoblade Chronicles 2: You knew this one was coming, didn't ya? I had the most passionate relationship of them all with XC2, going from loving it to pieces to getting sick of it — and everything in between. Today, my gamer's heart made its peace with XC2, and I can think back on my run(s) with great fondness. However, when I imagine myself actually replaying the game, I find myself paralyzed with utter and complete refusal — heck, the mere though of running again through the Tantal snows or the Leftheria sands is enough to make me nauseous, and that's with me loving those landscapes. There were tons of things I adored about XC2, from the slick fighting system to the grandiose vistas; yet I cannot bring myself to even think of experiencing all that goodness again.

This goes to show that even though I'm a total serial game replayer, I have my limits like everyone else. Of course, we never know what the future has in store for us, and maybe I'll replay one of those games after a couple of years; but for now, they stand firmly on my 'rest in peace' list. Don't hesitate to share your own list in the comments, dear fellow gamers — and see you soon with more gaming goodness!


Fire Emblem Echoes - Shadows of Valentia: Is this love that I'm feeling?

Why, of course it's love. There's no way I couldn't love a Fire Emblem entry that's delighfully simple, straightforward and streamlined, and as mercifully light on story as it's deliciously heavy on combat. There's no way I wouldn't love a FE entry that's said to be one of the shortest in the series, yet still offers plenty of strategic nuance by boasting two different sets of units — and letting me switch at will between them. And there's just no way in heck I won't adore a FE entry that lets me slash my way through dungeons.

That last point requires further development, because it's so impossibly awesome that I have to rave copiously about it. Long story short, FEE offers complimentary dungeons to crawl, in which you can farm stuff and swing your sword at things — think slash grass à la Zelda, or strike foes first to get an edge in battle à la Atelier. Not even in my wildest dreams would I have dared imagine a FE instalment with an A-RPG fighting system — let alone a stellar A-RPG fighting system. Because indeed, real-time combat in FEE is irresistibly satisfying: not only are the physics amazing and a feast for the fingers, but the animations are gorgeous and a feast for the eyes. The whole thing is just so darn perfect that I seriously wish there were more of it — like, the whole game. Nah, just kidding; regular battles are excellent too, so I wouldn't want to miss on them. On the other hand, this makes me reassess my purchase of Fire Emblem Warriors. I bought that game a couple of years ago on a whim, and always kinda regretted that purchase; but after experiencing FEE's thrilling real-time combat segments, I find myself eager to play that unlikely crossover after all.

Slashing and hacking is not all there is to FEE's dungeons, though. You can also farm stuff there, either by destroying pots and crates conveniently lying around or by looking for items thanks to a point-and-clicky sight. And you'd better farm dutifully indeed, because this is the only way to get your paws on replenishing items and new gear, as well as the most efficient way to get forging currency and items for side quests. Because indeed, there are side quests in FEE! Have I ever played an FE game with side quests — beyond the usual 'go there and recruit that extra unit' thing, that is? I don't think so, and I relish that novelty — even though a quest journal would have been much appreciated.

With all that, you'd nearly forget that we're dealing with an SRPG there. But don't worry, dear fellow gamers: I love the strategy side of FEE just as much as its ARPG side. It's a real pleasure to be immersed in the series' unique atmosphere again, and to savour its distinctive brand of combat without a care in the world thanks to the forgiving 'no permadeath' setting. I tackled Celica's path first, until I was blocked at the sluice gate and had to progress things on Alm's side; and with hindsight, I kinda regret not having cleared one battle at a time on each side. The map on Alm's side is now teeming with strong extra brigades that make my progression much harder — heck, I'm lucky if I manage to escape those battles with more than a quarter of my force still standing. Things are so tedious that I'm seriously thinking of promoting my eligible units right now — all the more so as hitting the lv. 20 cap before changing class supposedly matters less in FEE than in your regular FE entry. Let's get to it, shall we? Until I see you again with a fresh run report, take care and keep gaming!


Final Fantasy II: Final thoughts

Oh, is that so? Let me take that bauble off your hands then.

This is it, folks: the emperor is destroyed, and my country is free again. Hooray! That last stretch was a piece of cake, honestly. For once, my party was outrageously overleveled, and pimped up with the finest gear to boot. That finest gear included the HP-sucking Blood Sword, which made the final showdown ridiculously smooth: I just let Firion lash out with that fabulous blade while Guy and Maria healed the whole crew, and the whole thing was over in less than ten turns with nobody kicking the bucket. Easy-peasy! For another, I used maps to navigate most of the last dungeon. It was a slick and sweet piece of crawling, yes it was; and it was not even really cheating, since I still bore the brunt of that crawling by vanquishing the endless waves of foes crashing on my party. I daresay that this experience even opened a new door for me, and that maybe I'll use walkthroughs and FAQs more readily from now on.

FFII reminded me of Trails in the Sky in more ways than one. I already praised the lovingly detailed and very Nihon Falcom-ish graphics; I can also praise the Guest system, which saw the fourth spot in my party being occupied by a slew of temporary party members. The fact that a good half of them left the party by kicking the bucket added a suitably harrowing element to my liberating epic; needless to say, I'll be more than happy to play Soul of Rebirth and cruise with those fallen heroes again. (Not right now, though: I've had my fill of all things FFII for the time being.)

And since I'm mentioning the story, I must say that it was unfortunately too disjointed to live up to its full potential. Not only did it include way too many in medias res elements for comfort, but the (rare) in-game events didn't even get a decent development. (SPOILERS!) Like, shouldn't there be a long and serious heart-to-heart about Leon's life as the Emperor's Dark Knight? I know the world is in dire danger, but are we just gonna brush this off without even checking his motivations for such a turnaround? Looks like it indeed! Heck, I really wanted to know if he was blackmailed, brainwashed or hypnotized into becoming the Emperor's peon, or if he did it on his own free will for some obscure and unspeakable reason. Guess I'll have to fill in the blanks myself then, and craft my own little story about Leon! (END OF SPOILERS.) All in all, FFII really calls for a sequel AND a prequel to clarify things on the narrative front.

So, did I love FFII? Absolutely. Would I recommend it? Yes and no. It has plenty of things going for it, and the 27 hours I spent playing it were utterly delicious; but the harsh truth is that FFII is really just a total fighting fest. Don't like grinding and crawling? Too bad, so sad — because there is literally nothing else to do in that game. The story is too evanescent and inconsequent to matter, and the open world is too shallow and empty to enthrall; if those things matter to you, then you should avoid FFII at all costs. But if you live for grinding and have a serious itch to scratch in that department, then FFII is your game indeed! Heck, it scratched my own grinding itch so thoroughly that I'm totally in the mood for more story-infused stuff now. And so, on to the next game!