Beneath the Cathedral

Hordes of monstrosities lurk in the darkness of these forsaken halls.

There are scarce few ARPGs that execute a harsh and unforgiving dungeon crawling experience as perfectly as Diablo does. Having to desperately scrounge for equipment, potions, and gold to have some hope of seeing the next floor. Having to face innumerable monsters that tear through your flesh and splinter your armour. Delving deeper into the blasphemous bowels beneath Tristram and encountering enemies or shrines that can permanently alter your various attributes. Both the atmosphere and mechanics blurring the line between the frantic nature of ARPGs and the punishing reality of dungeon crawlers.

Diablo can certainly hold its own even today.

For this reason the re-release of Diablo (and later the Hellfire expansion pack) was interesting to me. Mostly due to the convenience of being able to play Diablo without a disc, but also because I’ve yet to experience the content in Hellfire and the support for modern operating systems could be useful. Underwhelming but useful.

The re-release does little to change the actual content of either Diablo or Hellfire. Which I’m glad about. That said, the launcher does give you some rather interesting options. You can choose between the original release of Diablo, the re-release of Diablo, or the re-release of Diablo with the Hellfire expansion pack. Save files can be freely transferred between the original release and re-release of Diablo, but Hellfire has a different save file format. Which is slightly disappointing as it would seem that only Hellfire allows you to play through Normal, Nightmare, and Hell. Something that (as far as I’m aware) was only available to online characters in the original release. So, unfortunately, I can’t take my character from the original release and cleave my way through Nightmare. The save files just aren’t compatible.

The Butcher’s Cleaver is great at cleaving things. As you would expect.

Support for higher resolutions (and the advanced rendering options) only apply to the re-release of Diablo or the re-release of Diablo with the Hellfire expansion pack. Higher resolution support technically exists, but it simply stretches the original resolution (of 640 x 480) to fit your desired resolution. You can also opt for aspect ratio correction to retain the original 4:3 aspect ratio. I’m not sure why you would ever turn aspect ratio correction off, though. The advanced rendering options are likely to be doing something, but I’ve barely noticed even the slightest changes when utilising them.

The above screenshot was originally taken at 3840 x 2160 resolution.

However, regardless of the actual display resolution, screenshots will be saved at 640 x 480 resolution and in the (obscure) .pcx file format. It doesn’t detract at all from the experience and the visuals are comparable to the original release, but it doesn’t exactly feel like higher resolution support as we’ve come to know it in recent years.

If you enjoy Diablo (or are an ARPG enthusiast) then the re-release is certainly worth the relatively inexpensive cost of admission. Being able to switch between the original release and the re-release (with or without Hellfire) is a nice touch. It is, however, slightly disappointing that I can’t carry forward my progress from the original release into Hellfire. But that was often the case with expansion packs of yesteryear. I’m quite enthusiastic about the possibility of a re-release of Diablo II in a similar vein, too. It would be nice if that would also allow you to switch between either classic Diablo II or the Lord of Destruction expansion pack. I am rather fond of the countless hours I’ve spent with various classic Diablo II characters. It’d be nice to be able to revive them at some point.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

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Returning to Neverwinter

A bustling city with the slightest hint of plague.

It’s been roughly fifteen years since I first experienced Neverwinter Nights. At the time I had very little knowledge of the different Dungeons & Dragons rules, and so all of the characters that I built were probably malformed clunky failures that were based on my experiences in other RPGs. I remember being fond of Clerics and Paladins. Then again, that’s hardly surprising as I’ve always had a penchant for self-sustaining characters as they’re often viable in all kinds of content. But I doubt that they were built correctly or had any combat proficiency. Even my recent attempts at building a Rogue have lacked combat proficiency.

But that’s mostly resolved once they get dual-wielding feats.

I’m particularly fond of the Weapon Finesse feat as that offers a substantial bonus to attack rolls due to their high Dexterity. That said, I’m probably going to be more successful with this build were I to be a Ranger or Fighter instead as they’re both more suited to combat, but they lack the easier access to thievery and lock picking.

It’s an unorthodox build for me as I rarely build sneaky, thieving, subtle characters. That said, Dark Souls was the exception to that rule as well. I tended to favour high Dexterity builds focused on rolling and that seemed to work out just fine. I’m also noticing that the 3rd edition rules have an absurd amount of flexibility, in that I could easily take a level or two in another class and immediately gain significant bonuses. At the moment I’m leaning towards Rogue and Cleric. I had considered the Wizard or Sorcerer but wearing armour incurs an Arcane Spell Failure penalty, which doesn’t necessarily make sense when I will be primarily dual-wielding weapons and would like to wear armour for the defensive bonuses. But I’m also curious as to how Sorcerers actually work.

Not much of a test for someone so skilled in thievery.

I’m undecided as to whether it would be preferable to build as a Cleric and then take a level in Rogue or to do the opposite. I think the decision would affect the number of spells per day available to the character. As I do believe that building as a Rogue and then taking a level in Cleric reduces the number of spells per day by half, but the lack of spells per day could also be due to the average Wisdom this build has. These are details that due to my inexperience with the 3rd edition rules are still somewhat confusing. I think that I can still acquire the same number of class skills were I to build the character either way.

Which is the most important aspect of being a Rogue for me.

That said, this build may not be entirely viable. I don’t see any significant reason why I couldn’t finish the campaign with it, but I’m still quite confused as to the implications (and severity) of the experience penalty incurred when choosing additional classes. However, I’ve taken the safe option of being a Halfling to negate the penalty entirely.

It’s also fun being a tiny, stabbing, thieving machine who dual-wields weapons with great finesse. It’s a strange character concept but one that I’ve been endeared to as I’ve tinkered with every aspect of this build. I’m not sure if this will be the final character that I choose or if I’ll find another concept to build around, but I’ve greatly enjoyed the flexibility and freedom of the 3rd edition rules. I’m also not sure if I’ll be seeing Neverwinter Nights through to the end or not. I’ve mostly been enjoying toying with different builds and trying to do something unusual. The easier default option for me would be to choose a Fighter or Barbarian. But I would prefer to try something new as there are many neat mechanics you can utilise in the 3rd edition rules.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

The Urge to Climb

Ascending towards the surface and the sun.

Mary Skelter: Nightmares is an absolutely bizarre but enjoyable JRPG featuring satisfying dungeon crawling mechanics. It functions similarly to other dungeon crawlers and features a party of up to five characters, but allows you to develop those characters to conform to whichever party composition you have in mind. Presenting a typical JRPG party management system of being able to swap characters as and when you please. The development of the individual characters is tied to their classes, of which there are five unique classes and two characters embodying each class resulting in ten playable characters.

Of the ten one is a secret character unlocked near the end of the campaign.

Most character development is as expected with the acquisition of experience points leading to levelling up. However, there are the Blood Devolution mechanics (that allow you to reverse the levelling process) and the class change mechanics which both require increasing quantities of blood crystals. Blood crystals which are found at random in dungeons.

Changing classes requires a quantity of blood crystals and Job Rights, while Blood Devolution requires a (significantly greater) quantity of blood crystals and Devolution Rights. Every tenth character level you are awarded both a Job Right and Devolution Right. This is one of the earlier justifications for utilising the Blood Devolution mechanics, as you can easily devolve a low level character to acquire another Job Right with which you can unlock more classes. Unlocking a class makes every skill available to that class permanently available to the character even if they switch to something else. For instance, Alice will retain Cover or Intimidate (if invested in) even if she switches from Paladin to Destroyer. So unlocking each and every class is actually a viable strategy to maximise the number of skills you have available.

There are some unusual classes, too. The Item Meister is an exceptionally useful utility class that is second only to the Blood Hunter for making the most of each dungeon. Both classes increase the drop rate of items in combat while the Blood Hunter can also increase the amount of gold earned in combat, and utilising one of these classes will have you buried under mountains of loot. Loot, which, even if it isn’t immediately useful, can be sold. I had an Item Meister for the majority of the campaign and I reached the point where I had millions of gold that I couldn’t carry due to the gold cap being just shy of ten million.

The Paladin is quite a unique approach that really excels with higher level equipment, too.

My only minor criticism of the mechanics presented herein is that the acquisition of blood crystals can be quite unpredictable. Often only one or two creatures of a particular type (of a particular floor) will drop the crystals you need, but unless you’re planning to engage in Blood Devolution repeatedly you should have more than enough of even the rarer blood crystals to get by.

I bought Mary Skelter: Nightmares on a whim as it looked like a reasonably enjoyable JRPG dungeon crawler. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to experience something that’s genuinely enjoyable and engaging that doesn’t necessarily challenge you but remains fun to play throughout. The characters and their respective classes were quite interesting and varied, while the dungeons featured actual puzzles (albeit not complex ones) and particular mechanics that required you to use the unique abilities of each character. The main campaign was also quite a bit longer than expected. If you’re a fan of JRPGs or dungeon crawlers (or both) I highly recommend Mary Skelter: Nightmares!

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Crawling Through Dungeons

Truly one of my favourite things to do.

My long history of playing through Diablo II can attest to that fact. Though, to be fair, Diablo had far more dungeon crawling than the sequel considering that you were descending beneath the cathedral. But there were numerous optional areas in Diablo II filled with loot, monsters, and unforgiving winding corridors. Curse those winding corridors! That said, it wasn’t until I first heard of Legend of Grimrock that I realised there is a whole genre built around the concept. Or, perhaps more accurately, that there was a whole genre built around the concept. It feels as though the genre has been forgotten by modern developers.

The concept of dungeon crawling is certainly prevalent in ARPGs.

There are also a few wonderfully enjoyable RPGs such as Darkest Dungeon that embrace the harsh, unflinching, puzzling nature of dungeons present in dungeon crawlers. However, in most modern RPGs there are few incentives to explore and fewer still to form a particular party to overcome various challenges. In fact, most of those mechanics are simply absent.

There are a few modern CRPGs such as Divinity: Original Sin and Pillars of Eternity that embrace complex character generation, numerous dialogue options, and party-based adventuring. But it does seem that complexity is slowly but surely disappearing from RPGs in general. In fact, that was one of the reasons that Fallout 4 felt so stale compared to either Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas. There wasn’t really any incentive to explore besides collecting more crafting materials. Most weapons could be completely rebuilt and few unique variants actually performed differently from their base weapon class. There was something ever so slightly addictive about the exploration in both Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. That and your character could actually resolve problems in different ways due to their character builds.

I get the feeling that we’re being watched…

I’ll admit that this post might seem slightly random but I do have reasons for the things that I do. In this case, this post was conceived during the time I’ve spent with the bizarrely enjoyable JRPG dungeon crawler Mary Skelter: Nightmares. While it features much of the typical JRPG busywork it also executes the dungeon crawling concepts nicely. I wasn’t expecting to actually have to solve puzzles or utilise different character abilities to overcome the challenges presented therein. It’s certainly not as complex as Legend of Grimrock (in either the puzzle mechanics or dungeon design) but it’s really fun to play.

Even if it does feature endless winding corridors in some areas.

Hence the reason that I ended up spending several hours looking for other dungeon crawlers. Unearthing everything from the Eye of the Beholder series to The Bard’s Tale trilogy and many other classic dungeon crawling experiences. I’d even forgotten that I do own both The Elder Scrolls Arena and The Elder Scrolls II Daggerfall which fit into that genre.

While the search didn’t necessarily yield the results I was hoping for it did reignite my interest in the many video game adaptations of Dungeons & Dragons rules. Given that many of these earlier dungeon crawlers were either inspired by or developed with those rules. I’ve long been considering rekindling my nostalgic love for Neverwinter Nights, which was one of my first CRPG experiences over ten years ago. When arguing with video card drivers was the true final boss of any gaming experience. Not that I fully understood or appreciated the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition rules, and so didn’t actually get too far into the campaign. But those experiences did encourage me to get into the Baldur’s Gate and the Icewind Dale series. So it’s not the worst mistake I’ve ever made.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

The Kamurocho Revitalization Project

The deadliest real estate agent.

Yakuza 0 is a wildly unpredictable but ridiculously enjoyable JRPG. Featuring a broad main campaign, two substantial minor campaigns (the Kamurocho Real Estate Royale and the Sotenbori Cabaret Club Czar), an overwhelming number of mini-games, and hundreds of optional challenges to complete. There’s over a hundred hours of diverse content to explore which is quite an impressive feat. My only minor criticism is that with so much to do it’s hard to know when the best time is to do what. That said, a Premium Adventure mode unlocks after completing the main campaign that allows you to revisit both cities.

This progression then goes towards the New Game+ save file.

I greatly enjoyed exploring both Kamurocho and Sotenbori as they’re beautifully detailed, vibrant, living locations overflowing with myriad (optional) Substories allowing you to explore the personality of each protagonist. They also allow you to buy video games for children, pretend to be someone’s boyfriend, train a dominatrix, and go disco dancing.

The sheer absurdity of some of these Substories is what makes them so enjoyable. In fact, the entire experience is somewhat absurd. It’s heavily exaggerated but amazingly enjoyable. I can’t say that I’ve ever enjoyed playing through mini-games as much as I have when going bowling or Pocket Circuit Racing in Yakuza 0. These mini-games are fully fleshed out, entirely playable, quite complex slices of optional content. As if the main campaign content wasn’t enough. Yakuza 0 also serves as a prequel to (the remastered) Yakuza Kiwami and the titles to follow. Very lightly skimming through the rest of the series has confirmed that many of the characters, events, and locations are representative of the stories to follow. It’s a sensible prequel that does an excellent job of explaining the events to follow and allows players to become fully immersed.

I think it suits him well as a real estate agent.

As if this wasn’t enough the optional challenges consistently reward you for actually going out and doing things. The CP acquired for each challenge completed can be invested in bonuses towards combat, adventuring, or your business ventures. With some of the business venture bonuses being quite significant. These challenges may be to play certain mini-games, defeat opponents with certain combat styles, eat local cuisine, play pool, or sing karaoke until your lungs burst. There’s such a diverse selection available that everyone will find something that they enjoy and that they can earn CP doing.

I was also most impressed with how fluid and satisfying combat was.

Both Kiryu and Majima have three combat styles (with a hidden fourth style) and each represents a concept. Be it versatility, strength, or speed. By attacking enemies in any of these styles you’ll build up Heat, and once Heat has reached a certain level you’ll be able to unleash ridiculously powerful special abilities. These abilities differ depending on the style used.

If there’s one thing that stands out to me about Yakuza 0 it’s the massive scale of the content available. I wasn’t expecting something that was as broad or as developed as this is. The main campaign was engaging, exhilarating, and beautifully presented which for most series would be enough. But the Yakuza series kept layering more and more content on in a world that despite its size puts most open world video games to shame. For such a small map there is so much to do, so much to see, and so many characters to meet. I absolutely adore the art direction and voice acting, too. It’s an exceptionally well presented experience that is quite unlike anything I’ve played before. But highly recommended if you’re looking for something a little different but incredibly rewarding.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Masters of Orsterra

On a journey of self-discovery.

Octopath Traveler is an exceptionally enjoyable JRPG that tells an engrossing story through eight main characters in an ever-evolving world overflowing with secrets. It feels quite nostalgic, too. Not that it has any reason to, but everything about the art direction and mechanics feels akin to the JRPGs of the SNES. There are quite a few new ideas in there as well. You can utilise myriad path actions to interact with NPCs in various ways, which not only keeps progression fresh but allows those characters to have content specific to them in their respective campaign chapters. It also allows you to resort to thievery.

Which mostly results in quite a stack of pomegranates.

The path actions also present the opportunity to have multiple types of side quests. Some require you to guide NPCs to certain locations, others to inquire about valuable information, some to purchase rare or unique items that can’t be obtained elsewhere, and others which require you to defeat NPCs to access new locations.

I’m quite fond of the character progression mechanics, too. Each character has their own base class and can combine this with one of twelve other classes. No two characters can have the same secondary class at the same time, which means if Olberic is an Apothecary and you want Tressa to be an Apothecary then Olberic needs to select a different secondary class. They are freely interchangeable, though. So make use of the unique passive skills for each class. Of the twelve classes there are the eight default classes and four advanced classes, which require you to explore the world and look for shrines in numerous locations. Unlocking skills with the advanced classes requires far more JP than default classes but they repay the investment with overwhelming power. Aelfric’s Auspices on a Sorcerer is a monstrous thing to behold.

I’ve greatly enjoyed the combat mechanics as well. They’re somewhat unconventional but quite intuitive and mostly require you to match your actions with the weaknesses of your enemies. Each enemy has a shield, which, once broken, leaves them vulnerable and allows you to deal additional damage. With the Warrior, Scholar, and Hunter there are quite a few ways to break shields on multiple opponents at once. Some characters (like Alfyn) even have unique talents that allow them to perform actions in combat to break multiple shields at once, which you can’t inherit by becoming their class.

I’ve written of some of these things before.

It’s quite rare for a JRPG to offer some distinction between characters besides their abilities or statistics. Even the path actions have different categorisations, which mean that some are considered lawful while others are unlawful and each carries their own risks and rewards. These will have different impacts on your reputation when used.

Which is what I think is best about Octopath Traveler. There are quite a few unconventional mechanics (at least for JRPGs) which opens up the opportunity to explore the world in your own way. You can choose to be entirely unlawful and force your way through towns and during events. Or you can choose to be entirely lawful. That said, it doesn’t present the multiple choice dialogue akin to CRPGs and so the campaigns themselves will mostly play out as they should. But it does offer enough individuality to stand out from other JRPGs. If you’re a fan of JRPGs and you’re looking for something that’s familiar but different then I can’t recommend Octopath Traveler highly enough. It’s an exceptionally engaging experience from start to finish!

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

The Strength of Their Convictions

On the road again.

There are few things that I enjoy more than well-crafted JRPGs. Octopath Traveler was allegedly one of those well-crafted JRPGs, but as I don’t own a Nintendo Switch, nor have any interest in purchasing one, it became increasingly apparent that I would never know for myself. That was until it was recently announced for release on Steam, which prompted a (somewhat rare) pre-order and research into what made the nostalgia-driven but entirely modern JRPG stand out from the crowd. There are quite a few things, in fact. Not that it does anything entirely new or unique but what it does do it does very well.

It’s a very solid experience from start to finish.

The combat has a great rhythm that never feels particularly sluggish or boring. The path actions allow you to quite literally steal everything that isn’t nailed down or to inquire about secret treasures. The character classes are quite competent individually and when paired with a secondary class can become quite devastating.

One of the best choices I made was to combine Tressa with the Scholar. With her Rest skill she’s a self-sustaining damage machine that can devastate enemy shields, break multiple enemies at once, and deal ridiculously high amounts of damage. Likewise, Olberic as an Apothecary, due to his naturally high elemental defence, makes an excellent healer. With the Cover Support Skill he’s able to soak most of the damage, protect the party, and then heal himself. Should someone die he can just resurrect them. I’ve also got the Hang Tough Support Skill on Tressa which means she’s very unlikely to die. That is unless she’s hit by AoE damage or Olberic is dead. Once you’ve mastered the various classes you gain access to ridiculously powerful Divine Skills that absolutely destroy opponents. Or provide exceptionally powerful buffs.

To discover the truth behind the fall of Hornburg.

In many ways, the various mechanics surrounding combat and character progression are among my favourites. I love the concept of being able to boost damage (or healing) and being able to save highest damage for when enemies are already broken. Being able to boost physical attacks is quite neat, too. That allows you to chain several hits with a weapon to break enemy shields faster. Or, just as effectively, chain the strikes for higher damage. It’s very rare to have a turn where you don’t have something you’d like to (or need to) do. It’s an oddly effective fast-paced strategic combat approach that feels great.

It doesn’t feel particularly grind-y, either.

While some of the Support Skills are quite powerful they are the only things that carry over when mastering a secondary class. Some are also slightly useless when you first gain access to them, such as Surpassing Power, which allows you to break the damage limit, and is wasted unless you’re able to deal over 10k damage on the regular.

I’ve pre-ordered few titles in the last few years but Octopath Traveler was definitely worth the risk. I’ve already amassed a (quite frankly ridiculous) number of hours in exploring the various locales of Orsterra, and I’ve yet to really experience the majority of the eight simultaneous main character campaigns. Not to mention the various dungeons, shrines, towns, and general JRPG busywork. I’m also quite curious about the four character classes I’ve yet to see. I’ve only seen mention of them in the achievements list. My best guess would be that they’re advanced or exceptionally powerful classes available closer to the end of the main campaign. Or perhaps even available post-campaign as things often seem to be in JRPGs nowadays. In either case, I’m definitely looking forward to experiencing more of Octopath Traveler in coming weeks.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie