World End Syndrome: Flawed yet lovely

Let's face it: World End Syndrome, one of PQube's many VN offerings, is seriously flawed. The unsuspecting player sees it right of the bat, when they're forced to clear the prologue twice in a row to be granted access to the main story. The flawed nature of the game is then cemented when the ever-so-slightly-suspicious player realizes that most of the dialogue choices don't matter whatsoever. Finally, it's confirmed when the now-blasé player stumbles upon wooden and unnatural scenes referring to events they didn't witness or ignoring fomer romantic developments entirely, just because the game operates on a 'one-time-and-place = one-fixed-scene' system. 

And yet, World End Syndrome is also incredibly lovely. The unsuspecting player's retinas are in for a treat right away, upon discovering the gorgeous vistas and adorable character designs. The loveliness of the game is then further enhanced by the unique and mesmerizing atmosphere of the game world, in which the main locale is treated as a full-blown character. Finally, the now enraptured player is bound to be swept off their feet by the simple yet deeply engaging and moving story, and the blessed realization that the characters are so much more than the anime tropes they seem to be at first glance. 

I love WES to pieces; and yet, that love story might not have existed at all. I'll admit it: upon starting the main story and discovering that I had to select places to visit without the slighest shred of indication regarding who or what I may find there, my heart faltered and I was a hair's breadth away from stuffing the cartridge back into my dedicated Switch Unikeep binder (story for another post, that.) Yet I was so enraptured by the art and the game's vibe that I decided to forge ahead and perform a crash test run of sorts, picking up places at random and seeing where this led me. Straight to the Worst Ending, that's where it led me! However, upon starting a new run and discovering that already visited places were marked as such, along with indications regarding who lounged there, I realized that it was perfectly in my power to uncover every Route without resorting to FAQs. The way was time-consuming yet foolproof: since there were seven different places to explore, I just had to play seven runs in a row, visiting every single spot at every possible time. Then, I'd simply have to track each girl like a crazy stalker closely to end up on her route.

That's exactly what I did, dear fellow gamers; and not only did it work just fine, but it also greatly enhanced my experience of WES. Apart from the fact that uncovering all of a game's secrets by yourself is mightily satisfying, watching the same vistas over and over engraved Mihate Town in my mind, making it feel breathing and alive. I also got to understand and feel the depth of the Protagonist's depression through the many scenes that simply showed him wandering around aimlessly; as a matter of fact, some of my runs showed him slowly sinking into apathy as such scenes and days went by, in a striking and vivid way that stayed with me long after I finished those runs. 

I fancy thinking that I played the game the canon way by exploring all possibilities. The story ultimately revolves around dealing with pain and sorrow and moving on towards recovery; getting to witness the outcomes of all types of behaviours, from the most involved to the most lethargic, really drives the point home. I'm glad I forged on and poured so many hours into WES, because it ultimately turned to be one of my best and most engrossing VNs experiences ever. And since I'm mentioning VNs, there should be more of these in the posts to come; but not before I expand a bit more on WES. Until then, dear fellow gamers, keep playing and take care!


Pokemon Ruby: The Ninjask Battle Report


I'll admit it: I didn't think this would work out — like, at all. Sure, my Moonstone boasted a solid, healthy Lv. 100; however, his Move pool was nothing to brag about, and certainly nothing to make the Hoenn Elite Four shiver in fear. Leech Life was virtually useless at that point, and Aerial Ace was barely more useful; this left me with Return and Shadow Ball as my best — and only, really — Elite Four-conquering assets. Factor in the complete lack of Battle Items in my inventory, and you'll understand why I harboured serious doubts about the very viability of an immediate Elite Four showdown.

As a matter of fact, my doubts were so immense that I seriously pondered backtracking in order to get Dig and Giga Drain. The former would be a giant ace in the hole against Steven's Metagross; as for the latter, it would allow me to heal while dealing damage. The (giant) problem was that I had no Fly slave; and as far as I know, Hoenn Victory Road doesn't host 'Mons that can learn Fly. Getting those two Moves thus required walking back the whole length of Victory Road, and then walking and Surfing some more to reach Fallarbor and Route 122 — with a stop at Lilycove to snatch some Battle Items. As you can imagine, I was not exactly eager to tackle such a massive trip; and that's why I decided to try as I was and hope for the best.

To my utter surprise,  my Moonstone managed to one-shoot every single Elite Four 'Mon bar Walrein and Salamence. This was an amazing start, and a perfect beeline for Steven; said Steven, on the other hand, proved to be a tad harder. Heck, more like a whole lot harder — yet not so hard that it became unsurmountable, which made for an highly interesting final battle.

Steven opens with Skarmory, i.e. the most infuriatingly sturdy 'Mon this side of Miltank — and a Flying 'Mon to boot, meaning super-effectiveness against my Moonstone. It took a whopping eight Shadow Ball to clear the way, because of Steven (obviously) using a Full Restore. Claydol went down quickly with one neat Shadow Ball, after which I healed to be ready against Cradily. My strategy involved letting Cradily use its five super-effective Ancient Power while I healed every turn, after which I could safely pummel it into oblivion. That worked out just fine, and Cradily went down with just two Aerial Ace — meaning that I could have dispensed with emptying Ancient Power's PP; however, I didn't know how much damage Aerial Ace would deal, and I didn't want to risk fainting and having to restart the whole fight.

Armaldo could have posed a threat, wielding Ancient Power as well. I could have used the same strategy as with Cradily; however, I decided to try my luck instead. My reasoning was as follows: if Rock-Grass Cradily went down with two Aerial Ace, then surely Rock-Bug Armaldo would do the same, Grass and Bug being both weak against Flying. This reasoning was laughingly incomplete, conveniently ignoring Armaldo's and Moonstone's stats; and indeed, Moonstone came very close to fainting, but still managed to submit Armaldo.

Aggron and was a major pain in the arse, but not so much because of its stats or Moves: it used mostly the deliciously inefficient Earthquake, and it didn't resist Shadow Ball. No, it was a pain because Steven used three Full Restores on it, effectively undoing my hard and patient sapping work in the blink of an eye. I had to use a Max Elixir at that point, because I was running out of PP for Return and Shadow Ball. Then came the dreaded Metagross; I expected a tedious and arduous ultimate battle, and was left flabbergasted when that most formidable foe went down with two swift, clean Shadow Ball. Well done, you!

Bug 'Mons usually make for wildly interesting Pokemon League battles, and Ninjask was no exception. That Elite Four showdown hit just the sweet spot between smooth and challenging, offering me a mighty fine mix of indecent one-shooting and fine-tuned strategies. My King's Rock didn't trigger a single time, which gives me added bragging rights: victory was attained solely with my Moonstone's natural abilities — and not the most stellar Move pool to boot. And now that I'm done with a challenging run for a change, how about another run that's even more challenging? Like, a run in which you literally do or die? Yup, that's right: a Shedinja Solo Run is next. Stay tuned for the upcoming run report, fellow gamers — heck, I'm psyched now!


Pokemon Ruby: The Ninjask Solo Run


A.k.a. even a lazy Pokemon solo runner relishes a good challenge once in a while. Mind you, the idea of a Ninjask solo run didn't exactly come out of thin air: it was first suggested to me by my fellow Pokefan Sieg, and I encountered a couple of such runs on Youtube. I always knew I'd cruise with Ninjask sooner or later; and this summer autumn, the time was finally ripe. 

Right of the bat, I was faced with a quandary regarding the evolution timing of my Nincada. Things were pretty simple: the first half of the game was going to be a serious challenge no matter what, but the nature of that challenge would vary depending on my little Moonstone's form. If I evolved him, I'd have to endure three super-effective Gyms in a row; if I didn't, I'd have to make do with a totally crappy Attack stat. I finally decided to evolve him normally and to rely on his sky-high Attack and Speed as a Ninjask to power my way through the Gyms. It worked in the end; but darn, was it tough. If not for a combination of Battle Items, grinding and Rare Candies, I'd never have made it through that first half. 

Once I was done with Flannery's Gym, though, things suddenly became much cushier. Not only did I slowly but surely start to level up faster thanks to the Erratic rate, but I also gained access to much better Moves. Return, Shadow Ball and Aerial Ace came to replace Slash, Secret Power and Thief; Leech Life, on the other hand, remained firmly in place until the very end. Considering Moonstone had it already at Lv.7, that's 93 levels of Leech Life; pretty honourable longevity for such a weak Move, shall I say. And since I mentioned the very end, I can tell you the Elite Four showdown was supremely interesting — so interesting, in fact, that I'm going to write a dedicated post. 

I was genuinely surprised by the shallowness of Ninjask's learnset. It learns a grand total of five offensive Moves through leveling up and ten through TMs; on top of that, it learns no Bug Moves apart from Leech Life and Furry Cutter, and its only Flying option is Aerial Ace. No Silver Wind or Sky Attack for you, mate! Ninjask's learnset has fortunately been revamped since; but gosh, was it underwhelming in Gen III. Mind you, it didn't prevent me from becoming the Champion, as you'll see soon enough in my battle report. Until then, dear fellow gamers, keep gaming and take care!


Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 3: My work here is done


10 hours and 15 levels after my last post, it's time for me and RB3 to part ways — even though the last boss still stands, and the credits have yet to roll.

The game is entirely to blame for that desertion. Mind you, grinding is still as engrossing as ever; but even a serial grinder like me cannot help but get a tad irritated when a game lets beaten bosses escape just to make me fight them again later. I guess you were simply running out of funds, Compile Heart; but in that case, just make your game shorter, instead of throwing fake longevity left and right. When I had to vanquish Mr. Badd for the darn third time since the beginning of my run, I rolled my eyes, exited the game, erased my save file, turned my Vita off and put the cartridge back in my precious collection. I felt mightily better after that, knowing that I had put an end to my run before my feelings for RB3 soured beyond repair. 

Long story short: I enjoyed my run, even though I deem that last instalment the weakest and most dispensable of the Re;Birth trilogy. I'll see you soon with whatever game catches my gaming instinct's fancy next, dear fellow gamers; in the meantime, keep gaming and take care!


Pokemon Ruby: The Slaking Solo Run


Here's another 'Mon I've been wanting to cruise with for years, without ever finding the right time to do so. But no more procrastinating: this summer autumn, Slaking is finally taking center stage — in its introducing game, no less. Given Slaking's unique Stat distribution and Ability, I expected a wildly interesting ride. I mean, we're talking about a 'Mon that boasts the same total base Stat as Groudon and Kyogre themselves — which, incidentally, is the 10th highest total base stat of all 'Mons including Legendaries — along with a crippling Ability that immobilizes it in battle half the time. This had to be a neat challenge, right? 

It was a neat challenge allright, especially in the early stages. I'll say it: Slakoth is absolutely horrendous. Not only can it only use Moves every two turns, but it solely knows the weakest of the weak Scratch, and learns no other offensive Move until lv. bloody 19. Let it evolve at lv. 18, and it will learn Fury Swipes at lv. 19; stall its evolution, and it'll learn Faint Attack instead. Not knowing that, I let it evolve, and deprived myself of an useful Move for the Rock Gym; however, a couple of Battle Items did the trick instead. Upon discovering that Vigoroth was the exact opposite from the two forms sandwiching it — i.e. an hyperactive 'Mon that doesn't loaf around and literally never sleeps — I decided to delay its evolution not just by a few levels, but until the Elite Four itself. That was another brand of challenge, all the more so as I don't remember having ever run so long with a middle form. 

 One Everstone later, I was on a roll, ready to get more powerful and learn new exciting Moves. The latter were in no hurry to come, and I had to do with Shock Wave, Slash, Fury Swipes and Scratch until the darn 4th Gym. However, better Moves made a welcome entrance after that: first my beloved Return right before the 5th Gym, then the awesome Ice Beam right before the 6th Gym, then Aerial Ace right after the 6th Gym; combined with Shock Wave, those three made my Move pool until Victory Road. An Electric Move is a godsend in Hoenn, and it made all aquatic Routes a cakewalk; Aerial Ace neatly disposed of all Fighting 'Mons, and Return could take down everything thanks to the STAB. 

And talking about Victory Road, it was a bit different this time around. By the time I exited it, my Sapphire was only at lv.80 — the result of her Slow leveling-up rate, her non-traded status and the absence of a Lucky Egg. This was certainly good enough a level to submit the Elite Four; however, I was not satisfied. Not only have I somehow got used to tackling the League at lv. 100, but I also wanted to see how impossibly high Slaking's Attack would be at the big 100 — all the more so as my Sapphire boasted a Lonely Nature, making her Attack even impossibly higher. And thus started the Great Rare Candy Farming, folks. This is another neat trick I learnt from Jrose's run-changing Feebas Solo Run video: to make use of Zigzagoon's Pickup ability to reap all sorts of lovely items, including Rare Candies. And so, I recruited three Zigzagoons on top of the two I already owned, jumped on my Bike and started roaming the last segment of Victory Road. One hour later, I had reaped enough Rare Candies to hit the big 100, and finally let Sapphire take her final evolutionary step. I was rewarded by a whopping 411 Attack, which is totally the highest Attack I've ever encountered in a solo run — heck, it makes even powerhouse Zangoose look like a weakling! 

The Elite Four showdown that followed was, as you'd expect, absolutely unique. I tweaked my Move pool right before it, replacing Shock Wave and Aerial Ace with Brick Break and Earthquake; this means that I had super-effective Moves against all League Trainers, bar Phoebe. I can say it: I one-shot every single Elite Four 'Mon, including Steven's ones — oh, how sweet it was to take down his darn sturdy Metagross with a clean, devastating super-effective Earthquake. As for my Sapphire's survival during inactive turns, it was more than guaranteed by her rock-solid defensive stats. This created a fascinating Elite Four experience that was both intense and relaxed. You had that mandatory pause between active turns, followed by a deadly blow — creating a satisfying, pitch-perfect battle rhythm. 

And so, it turns out that the Slaking line is perfect solo run material. Not only that, but it also gave me something rare: a middle form I like better than its pre- and post-forms, both aesthetically and strategically. Hey, I think that's totally a first! Given how smoothly my run unfolded and how many Moves ran on me in the late stages, I don't think another Slaking run in a more recent entry is justified — but hey: better never say never, especially when it comes to Pokemon solo runs! And now, I'm sailing towards what will probably be the very last runs of that Summer 2020 Pokemon Solo Run Season — but certainly not the least interesting, oh no precious. Until these ultimate run reports, dear fellow gamers, keep gaming and take care!


Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 3: MOAR!


22 hours in, chapter 5 — chapter 6 closing in on — and a crap ton of pure, unadulterated fun. I'm on a total grinding roll, racking up trash mob fights and boss battles like it's going out of fashion. My whole crew passed the lv. 65 and 10000 HP mark, which should guarantee an easy victory in the boss fight to come — after which I'll probably have to grind five to ten more levels for the next boss in line, and so on until the credits roll. That's the Re;Birth life, baby!

I'm enjoying the trip all the more as a mere ten hours of play ago, I was on the verge of quitting the game entirely. Despite my love for all things HN, I just couldn't get into the groove of that ultimate instalment. I was seriously put off by the constant stream of cutscenes, the long-arse goofy dialogues and the hardcore recycling of dungeons. The thing is, those are Re;Birth staples, and I enjoyed them until now; but we're now dealing with the third game in the series, and those beloved staples are starting to wear thin. Combine this with the absence of any zesty new character bar (the awesome but not nearly sufficient) Plutia and a story progression that's broken and disjointed like never before, and you get the mighty exception to the 'Third time's the charm' rule. 

I'll say it: I love the Re;Birth series to pieces, but that third and last game shouldn't have existed in its actual form. It feels like the ultimate cheap milking, a complete troll of a game that's here to take the piss out of Re;Birth aficionados and see how much shameless recycling they can take before screaming blue murder and daylight robbery. Or does it? Well, that would be forgetting the essence of the Re;Birth, the series' major staple: that staple is Holy Grinding, and it shines as brightly in RB3 as in former entries. Once I latched onto that sweet, sweet grinding, I found myself totally addicted again. 

Long story short: I'm acutely aware of RB3's flaws, but I'm enjoying it tremendously nonetheless. I certainly won't stop now, and this run will likely end in a whirlwind of mad, explosive grinding. Until then, dear fellow gamers, keep playing and take care!


Pokemon Y: The Liepard Solo Run


Dear fellow Pokefans, here comes my ultimate X&Y run of the Pokemon 2020 Summer Season! Mind you, that run was an inch away from not existing: my initial choice was to cruise with the Dark cat in its home region, thus getting sweet revenge at long last after my aborted Black Liepard run. However, I finally decided to roll with Gen VI for both aesthetic and strategic reasons. On the aesthetic side, I was really fond of Purrloin's revamped model, which gives him a faux cartoon spy air; on the strategic side, I really wanted to exploit Liepard's revamped learnset, which includes Play Rough — a Move I missed during my Delcatty OR run.

My little Velours didn't have the easiest start in life: with pitiful defensive stats and solely the weakest of the weak Scratch at his disposal, the early stages were rocky. Not only that, but those early stages kinda overstayed their welcome: the next three offensive Moves Liepard can learn naturally, i.e. Fury Swipes, Pursuit and Fake Out, are nothing to brag to Professor Sycamore about. The only thing working in his favour was his amazing Limber Ability, which saved me from my single most hated status effect in Pokemon. Can more 'Mons be so deliciously immune to Paralyzis — pretty please? Fortunately, things took a turn for the better after I snatched Return in Lumiose, Thief in Camphrier, Rock Smash in Ambrette and Shadow Claw in the Glittering Cave; by the time I hit Cyllage and the Rock Gym, I was more than ready to take down Grant and his foils.

My Move pool didn't change much after that. Aerial Ace made a welcome cameo right in time for Shalour's Fighting Gym, quickly followed by the awesome and much-awaited Play Rough; Night Slash came to replace Thief, while the highly serviceable Return and Shadow Claw stayed firmly in place all the way to the Elite Four and beyond. With half of my Moves under 80 Power and none of them super-effective against said Elite Four bar Drasna and Diantha, I expected a kinda struggly final showdown — and that's what I got allright. I fainted a couple of times against Siebold, Malva and Wikstrom, but finally managed to take them down with a subtle mix of strategizing, luck and Black Glasses. After that, Drasna and Diantha were the expected cakewalk: I even indulged in the luxury of submitting all of Diantha's 'Mons bar Amaura with a super-effective Move. 

I kept my eyes peeled for interesting details, and was rewarded by the uncovering of X&Y's subtle, blink-and-you-miss it rivalvry dynamics. I used to think that X&Y's pair of rivals were bland pushovers, the less antagonistic of all Pokemon rivals; however, they're actually anything but. Calem and Selena ooze a potent mix of jealousy, bitterness and desire for revenge, barely concealed under a thin frosting of cold politeness. It starts with them wondering how Professor Sycamore knows you despite your recent arrival, keeps going with them disparagingly calling you "neighbor" instead of using your nickname, and culminates with them bemoaning their reliance on you. It's basically the Blue story all over again: they should have been the leader of the pack, anointed by the resident Pokemon expert in person — until you popped up at the last minute and completely stole their thunder. Unlike Blue though, they finally submit to your awesomeness and end up respecting you in earnest. All in all, this is a really deep and subtle rivalvry — maybe a bit too much for its own good, because it's all too easy to miss it entirely.

Meet my new kink: to pimp up my Trainer with the same colours as my 'Mon.

At any rate, my annual revisitation of Kalos comes to an end with that run. There will probably be more Pokemon goodness before I'm fully done with the Pokemon 2020 Summer Season, though — and nevermind that it's actually autumn now! Until the next run report, dear fellow gamers — keep playing and take care!


Collar X Malice Unlimited: Second time's the charm


It happened with Steins;Gate 0 already, and it's happening again: for the second time, I find myself loving a VN's sequel ten times more than the original game. One more time, and we'll definitely have a pattern; but for now, let's focus on the awesomeness of CxMU.

To put it simply, this sequel offers everything I wanted from the first game, and more. I mourned the absence of puzzles in CxM; lo and behold, they appear in Unlimited, and they're tough enough to please me. The crew's interactions are delightfully more subtle and complex, and there's more than enough character development to elevate CxMU way beyond the status of mere fandisk. There is a crap ton of gorgeous art to feast one's eyes upon — much more so than in the original, actually. Last but not least, that game feels a million times more wholesome than its predecessor. The rampant douchiness of the beaux has been virtually erased, to be replaced by much kinder and more mature attitudes towards Hoshino; there are also no bad endings to be found, only a so-called 'normal' ending — which is actually perfectly nice — and a 'best' ending that's even sweeter and fluffier. Cherry on the cake, the crew now sports more sensible hair styles and classier outfits, and Enomoto drops his dumb eyepatch at long last.  

As for the 'more', that would be the unexpected yet much welcome humour, as well as the many scenes involving the crew sans Hoshino. If there were a reversed Bechdel test spotting the presence of two male characters talking about something else than the MC in an otome game, then CxMU would pass it with flying colours. There's also an interesting chunk of 'what if', parallel universe-ish narrative elaborating on the destiny of an Adonis version of Hoshino — and allowing us to get up close and personal with the Adonis crew while we're at it. To crown this festival of goodness, you get a couple of extra romantic routes. Older and happily married Morioka and Mochida remains out of Hoshino's romantic league and wandering hands; on the other hand, Minegishi, Saeki and Yoshinari are now hers for the wooing. I didn't even envision Yoshinari as a potential mate for Hoshino when I played the original; but now that I've played his route, I deem their romance the sweetest and most heartwarming of the bunch, more than worthy to become canon in yours truly's eyes.

Long story short, I love that game. For all intents and purposes, it's actually more akin to a regular VN with large chunks of romance and steaminess than to an otome. I would blindly recommend CxMU to every VN aficionado, if not for the fact that having the original under your belt is absolutely mandatory to even understand what's happening and get a good feel of the characters. At any rate, I'm glad I gave that sequel a chance despite not liking the original; and now, I'm gonna dive right into another VN, as I'm very much in the mood for the genre right now. See you soon for more narrative goodness, dear fellow gamers!