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

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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 Sacred Guacamole

That’s Juan out of shape luchador, Salvador.

Guacamelee! 2 is the rather delightfully enjoyable sequel to Guacamelee! which takes Juan to the farthest reaches of the Mexiverse in a quest to solve the mysteries of the Sacred Guacamole, to defeat the once-mighty Salvador, and to return home to Lupita and his children. Occasionally taking the time to turn into a chicken and use the plumbing from a toilet as a means of transportation. Or even to lay eggs. Sometimes uncontrollably (and unintentionally) due to the nature of button-based combos that sometimes don’t work as intended. But it does perfectly illustrate the miracle of creating life.

Whether you meant to or not it’s still beautiful.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve played the Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition but I do believe that, while you could turn into a chicken, and had certain abilities in that form, they were never as extensive or as deadly as the updated mechanics in the sequel. So it’s a pretty solid chicken simulation, too. If chickens really do dive bomb skeletons into oblivion.

At this point I’m not really sure. What I am sure about is that the developers behind the Guacamelee! franchise really love chickens. I do, too. Their clucking is adorable. They also really enjoy coloured block-based puzzles. Which, to be fair, I’ve never really written about before but is one of the strongest mechanics in the franchise. I love how the blocks are highlighted on the map once you’ve seen them. It’s one of those modern conveniences that helps immensely but doesn’t affect the difficulty. It just means that if you’re unsure of where to go, exploring new areas, or hunting for secrets that you’ve actually got a useful map. You know where to return to and when. You’re not painstakingly redoing entire sections of the various areas only to find that you still can’t smash through green blocks. Or punch those pesky blue ones.

That’s an absurd number of chickens…

The combat has been slightly refined in the sequel but still relies heavily on button-based combos and breaking shields. You can further develop Juan by investing in more powerful abilities or useful bonuses by training with certain characters, which will ultimately empower both human and chicken abilities or allow for the acquisition of more resources. It’s quite an intuitive set of mechanics. For this reason combat never feels particularly monotonous. The inclusion of various chicken abilities also means there are more shields, more abilities required to break them, and generally that combat has an enjoyable rhythm to it.

Guacamelee! 2 has fantastic art direction, too.

Every element of the universe- from the music, to the characters, to the enemies- feels entirely unique. It’s an amazingly beautiful setting that feels wonderful to experience. It’s also really fun. Even the somewhat infuriating secret dungeons (for the super secret ending) are enjoyable in their own painful, masochistic, profanity-inducing way.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Guacamelee! 2 but it certainly didn’t disappoint. My only minor criticism is that the secret dungeons were slightly ridiculous, and not necessarily infuriating because of what you were being asked to do but because it was to be done in a single run. Often with hazards that would instantly kill you. Which felt (just a teensy bit) unfair and out of place in an otherwise enjoyable set of puzzles. That said, this isn’t my area of expertise. So maybe these were user input errors. In either case, the secret dungeons are not required for anything (but the super secret ending) and can be ignored. It’s still an incredibly enjoyable (and ultimately very silly) experience. It’s definitely worth the price of admission- especially if you like chickens!

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

Strangely Coloured Crotch Rocket

An apt description of her transformation.

Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls continues the series’ strange naming convention which seems to get longer with each new instalment. It also continues the series’ fascination with alternate timeline stories. Which I do so dearly adore. Featuring IF as one of two protagonists that set out on a journey to understand why time is disappearing, how to reverse or stop the process, and ultimately work towards a non-post-apocalyptic future. It’s also got a rather neat character class system which is reminiscent of JRPGs of yesteryear.

Which is more or less the entire reason that I bought it.

That and the Dreamcast was a criminally underrated console and seeing a living incarnation of said system decimating her foes is a cathartic release of sorts. Each character has multiple classes and even unlocks a final ultimate class that is representative of everything that character embodies. Such as IF being a ninja. Or Neptune being a kangaroo.

The battle system introduces a few new mechanics, too. There’s the Fever Gauge which builds during battle and can be utilised to unleash Fever Time. Which is more less you having infinite turns and priority in the turn order until the effect wears off, but also makes available various powerful skills that can only be used when that delightfully upbeat music is playing. Characters retain previously established transformations as well. The CPUs are still able to utilise their HDD forms while IF gains a more powerful awakened form. Like a fiery, not-so-golden, less aerial Super Saiyan. It certainly aims to make button mashing in battle less of a thing and (mostly) succeeds, as your position in the turn order is governed by how much you do in any given turn.

The series’ tradition of using a system of plans to unlock new weapons, armour, locations, and bosses is sadly absent. Instead many of these things are unlocked when certain story events have taken place. That said, there is a rather neat conceptual approach to making dungeons more explorable with different collectibles, breakable objects, and unique ways to access other floors. It’s definitely something that helps to prevent dungeons from becoming mundane or repetitive too quickly. It also suits IF as a protagonist as that’s pretty much what she does.

My only criticism is how (surprisingly) clunky the PC release is.

The translation is most baffling as information about items is either entirely absent or doesn’t accurately describe what items do. The fonts in dialogue boxes (especially for names) are weirdly distorted, too. Not to mention the awfully inconsistent dialogue for certain characters whose personality is then harder to understand.

It’s certainly not what you would expect from a series that usually has reasonably high quality PC releases, but it doesn’t detract from the experience too greatly. I’d be almost entirely okay with it if there were more information available about the different classes. They’re quite easy to figure out, though. It’s still an enjoyable instalment in the Neptunia series and features the series’ trademark humour, characters, and the internal quandary that Neptune has whenever she’s not the protagonist. In that way I can still recommend this title as something that will keep you busy for 30-40hrs. Perhaps longer if you’re achievement hunting. Or trying to get every character to Lvl 99 and every class to Lvl 50.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

Heroes of the Resistance

The ADVENT coalition doesn’t own this world. Not yet.

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is an incredibly engrossing and thoroughly satisfying sequel to the quite wonderful XCOM: Enemy Within. Featuring an ever-increasing number of unit classes, myriad facilities, a flying fortress of doom, updated mechanics, multiple resistance factions to join, and a Geoscape that has more notifications than the Windows 8 operating system. War of the Chosen also harkens back to the days of old where expansion packs added new units, new mechanics, and new ways to access the existing content in the base experience.

It’s quite an impressive feat overall.

It can certainly be slightly overwhelming working through everything that happens in the first few hours. In fact, that’s probably the only (minor) criticism I could offer against the War of the Chosen expansion pack. It is a little too busy and the first five or six hours feel very linear and forced, but otherwise it is a truly enjoyable experience.

I was most impressed by the variation in (and number of) unit classes. Each feels unique enough to fit into a particular role, but broad enough to fill several roles when they need to. Rangers provide the perfect balance of mid-range combat with the ability to slice and dice in close quarters, Specialists pair their combat prowess with either healing or hacking units to provide different bonuses, Grenadiers have the potential to rain continual death upon areas of the battlefield but also shred armour with their cannons, Sharpshooters take the high ground while firing mercilessly on all those who cross their field of vision, Psi Operatives can utilise their otherworldly powers to embolden allies or debilitate foes, and SPARKs offer either exceptional destruction or impenetrable defence as they fill either role with utmost ease.

Those who have given much for the many.

If that wasn’t enough there are three additional factions (the Reapers, Skirmishers, and Templars) which offer their own unique abilities and bonuses, too. Then, to add more layers to this delicious gateaux of customisation, each of these unit classes has the ability to build towards different styles of play, and then even unlock additional abilities via the facilities you build. Such as the Training Center which allows you to unlock additional abilities from the same unit class or even some abilities that belong to other unit classes. It’s quite ridiculous, really.

You’ve also got access to much more unique equipment in the sequel.

There are more powerful variants of existing weapons, armour that is (quite literally) made from the skin of your enemies, entirely new and unique weapons with their own benefits and drawbacks, and even utility items that utilise unique mechanics. Also, via Modular Weapons, you can even add weapon modifications to your standard weaponry.

In many ways that’s what I feel is the best thing about XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. The depth of customisation is staggering. There are so many opportunities to further develop soldiers and create truly unique characters, which, alongside the ever-evolving nature of the main campaign, leads to exceptionally unique yet coherent content. It feels as if every part of the experience has been written into the code. Yet, in truth, it is the many layers of customisation which have come together to provide this outcome. It’s a very refreshing and very welcome change of pace. I can only imagine that each subsequent campaign would introduce more unique, more challenging, and more interesting variations of missions and soldiers. For that reason I highly recommend both XCOM 2 and the War of the Chosen expansion pack!

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

Jiants from the Hills

As mentioned in the Crimson (or Azure) prophecy.

World of Final Fantasy is an interesting and enjoyable JRPG which draws influence from the many main instalments in the Final Fantasy series over the years. It is marinated with a thick, juicy, tender layer of nostalgia. In which two young Mirage Keepers awaken to the world of Grymoire wherein they must fight, Imprism, and ultimately train powerful beasts and summonable creatures (referred henceforth as Mirages) who will fight at their behest. From inside their MiraBalls. They’re actually called Prisms. They’re also cubes. So maybe they should be MiraCubes…

There are myriad Mirage mechanics present.

Mirages gain experience as is traditional to JRPGs but level up via Mirage Boards. Each node represents some form of improvement (be it a new ability or statistical enhancement) and some afford the use of seeds to customise Mirages further, which ultimately contributes to how strong the stack with the Mirage Keepers will be.

Mechanically what this means is that when stacked they will unlock more powerful abilites under certain conditions. For instance, two Mirages that can cast Fire and Fira respectively would combine to cast Firaga. Mirages (or Mirage Keepers) with high level magic may even unlock Holy, Flare, or Ultima. But with great power comes great weakness. As all weaknesses are amplified in these forms. In that, if two Mirages are weak to thunder damage, the combined form would be ludicrously weak against it. Some Mirages may also possess a rarer Mirajewel node which essentially allows them to pass their abilities to either of the Mirage Keepers. Unlocked as a reusable Mirajewel these items allow the Mirage Keepers to further bolster their stacks with impressive abilities and statistical enhancements. Or to utilise unique combined abilities.

Until the completion of the main campaign the stacks must consist of two Mirages and one Mirage Keeper. However, after the true ending has been unlocked, you can remove the Mirage Keepers from the stacks. That’s only really relevant when attempting the post-completion content, but if you’ve decided you’re finally tired of Reynn’s constant smug know-it-all attitude you’re offered some respite. Or if you’ve ever wanted to see a Kuza Beast, Gilgamesh, and Magic Jar tear all those who stand before them asunder. That’s a perfectly valid reason, too.

Some characters have definitely been more annoying than others.

That said, I’m rather impressed with the main antagonist (especially their voice acting). I’d have expected something light-hearted given that World of Final Fantasy was meant for younger audiences. But, no, the developers are certainly gearing up fledgling adventurers for the darker stories they’ll find in the rest of the series.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from World of Final Fantasy but I was pleasantly surprised. I feel as though the availability of new mechanics and Mirages could be better paced, as there are some Mirages which you have from the very beginning of the campaign which don’t realise their full potential until after the first ending is unlocked. At which point most people (I would assume) have moved onto other Mirages. As they literally can’t level those ones up further without the appropriate Memento. But, besides that slight criticism, it’s definitely an enjoyable experience and the many Mirages are fun to try out. If, like me, you’ve played literally every main (non-MMORPG) instalment in the Final Fantasy series, World of Final Fantasy should rekindle some nostalgic embers in your heart. I highly recommend it!

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie