Review — Dragon Quest Heroes II (460)

With no computer, I recently bought a console game to occupy my free time. My favorite game of all time is Dragon Quest VIII, but it has remained virtually my only experience in the entire franchise (though I have played the original Dragon Warrior on the NES). Despite mediocre reviews, I decided to give this game a try for the change of pace. I do enjoy leveling and progression in any game, and the familiarity would ensure at least some enjoyment, so I got it.

And man, this game really does deserve its mediocre reviews. Don’t get me wrong: it’s fun. I’ve put over fifty hours into it so far, and I haven’t had my fill, but there are a lot of things that are weird about it.

First, the plot is pretty ho-hum. There’s a lot of things that happen, mostly misdirection, that happens simply to take you the player to new areas to fight new monsters. Kingdom A is in danger, so you have to go help them, only the danger comes from Kingdom B, who is bringing war due to a misunderstanding, meaning you have to go to Kingdom C, and so on. I’d say it’s derivative, but that’s not the right word. It’s more like the plot is used solely as a device for adventure, when this sort of game could really have worked with no plot at all. I will say, though, near the end there were a few plot twists I wasn’t expecting, so that was a nice little treat.

As far as game design goes, there’s a lot of odd things that are irking. There are mechanics that aren’t explained (getting the key that unlocks half the chests in the open-world is too convoluted for anyone to figure out on their own), and there are instances where you are punished for making the right play, or rewarded for making the wrong one. For example, there is a pitfall trap in a dungeon, and in that trap there are treasure chests. Why would you reward the player for making a mistake? That means anyone that was smart enough to avoid them would miss out on that treasure.

Despite all that, though, there really isn’t any glaring issues with the game. It’s problems are numerous, but small. My biggest grievance of all is that the two characters from DQ8 were turned into stereotypes. They didn’t feel like the people I had spent hundreds of hours adventuring with in the good old days. It makes me worry whether the characters from the other games were out of proportion as well.

This game does do a lot of cool things, though. The progression feels natural and rewarding, and it actually is challenging in a lot of parts! There were times where I had to restart the mission because it seemed super difficult, only to turn it around the second time because I had a better handle on what I should be doing. That sort of difficulty is the best!

And my favorite thing is that all the playable characters (a bit over a dozen) all have unique and fun playstyles. In a lot of hack and slash games I’m used to different characters having different combo attacks, and that’s about it, but in this game it’s way more than that. Like in Dragon Quest VIII, it’s important to have a well-rounded team filled with people who do different things. I have a mage that deals a ton of damage but has limited mana, a sword guy that does a lot of wide attacks to deal with large amounts of enemies, a healer to fix things when people get hurt or die, and a variable character depending on what you’re doing at the time. But the cool thing is that every character feels special, and even when the game sometimes forces you to select characters you may not like as much, you can still enjoy them. (As a side note, the particle effects in this game are top-notch in a lot of cases. There are some instances where the shading is off, but most of the fire, lightning, and ice attacks look awesome!)

So, is the game worth getting? Well, if you like hack-and-slash games, it’s fine. It’s story isn’t great, and it does get a bit repetitive, but if you’re fine with progression for it’s own sake, there is a lot of stuff to do even after you beat the game. There’s also a ‘New Game+’ mode I haven’t tried out yet. So there’s plenty of content to justify the value, if you’re not easily bored or frustrated, that is.

P.S. Playing a new game in the Dragon Quest franchise did get me super excited for Dragon Quest XI. Seeing all the old enemies in high resolution was nice, and I can’t wait for the upcoming release!

Review — Hammerwatch

As far as fun little couch co-op style games go, it can be hard to find ones that work these days. There’s a lot of choices, to be sure, but the abundance of choices can actually hinder the decision making process because while there are so many games, it isn’t easy to find the one that works for you and your friends.

For me, Hammerwatch is a great example of a retro dungeon crawler. It is a Gauntlet style co-op hack and slash. You each have a different class with different abilities, and you run through dungeons killing all manner of little monsters, solving puzzles and finding secrets. If you’re not careful, however, you can die instantly, so there is a risk factor.

My favorite thing about the game is how unforgiving it can be. There are different sources of threats that are more or less difficult for certain classes. There are challenging monsters that run fast and deal insane amounts of damage. Ranged classes deal with these best, usually, because they don’t have to get close. There are also swarms of enemies that shoot from a distance which are also hard for melee classes to deal with because at that point the game is a bullet hell. But the melee guys excel at dealing lots of damage to nearby enemies, so if it’s relatively safe, they can delete swarms of enemies in one blow if you time it right. Of course, there’s also traps. Spike traps kill you instantly in this game, and for whatever reason, I am really bad at maneuvering around them. They kill me a lot because I’m an idiot.

The levels aren’t random, but there are so many secrets it lends itself well to replay-ability simply because there’s bound to be loads of stuff you missed last time. The more you play, the better you’ll get, naturally. But there are also plenty of difficulty modifiers. There is the basic “Easy, Medium, Hard” settings, but you can also adjust more specific settings. You can make mana regenerate faster, or make health naturally regenerate slowly, for example. You can also make it harder, adding a shared health pool or setting everybody’s health to a maximum of one, meaning taking any damage at all will always kill you (or everybody, if you have shared health!)

My favorite thing about this game is the upgrades. As you go higher up the tower, you collect money and find stronger vendors that sell upgrades such as increased armor, increased damage, or increased life pool and movement speed. There are lots of things you can buy, and finding more secrets can make upgrades cost less in addition to giving you more money to pay for them, so its incredibly rewarding. (You can also unlock new abilities for your specific class as you get further into the game!)

As usual, I do have issues with this game, but they are sort of nit-picky. The first is that there is no random generation. I get that it’s difficult to implement secrets if the map is always different, but it feels like the sort of game that would have randomly generated levels and enemies, so the replay-ability is less in the novelty of the experience and more for the personal challenge of increasing the difficulty. As an unrelated side note, it can be almost impossible to tell what secrets do sometimes. You can press a secret button that says “A passageway has been revealed!” but there is no indication of where that might be, which will force you to backtrack all across the map in the hopes that you discover some new place. That part is a little frustrating.

My second real frustration with the game is that the “good” ending is reserved for people that know all the secrets. In order to escape the tower once you beat the final boss, you have to use “strange plank” items that you found in various places in the tower, which at first serve no discernible purpose. But, if you find all of them (you have to find all of them, too,) you can escape the castle and beat the game. And as far as I know, there’s no indication of how many there are in the dungeon in the first place. There’s twelve one for each floor of the castle.

Is the game worth it? Certainly. Full price, it’s currently worth $10, and a successful run-through of the first campaign will take over three hours, though it’ll probably take you a few tries to even get that far int he first place. I recommend it for anyone that likes hardcore games that try to kill you and your friends. It isn’t the most insanely difficult game, once you get the hang of it, but you can certainly modify it to be.

Review — Critical Role

I’m actually a little surprised that I have yet to actually talk about Critical Role as a thing. I know I’ve mentioned the fact that I’m watching/listening to it on a few monthly updates, but I never even explained what it is. So let me pose it to you this way. Imagine a Dungeons & Dragons group that professionally filmed all their sessions, and the entire cast, dungeon master and all, are famous celebrity voice actors who all happen to be great friends.

Now imagine that that’s a real thing, because it is.

There are a ton of reasons why this show is amazing. Even people that don’t like D&D would like it by virtue of the fact that it has some amazing storytelling, vivid description, and hilarious role-play moments. The adventures of Vox Machina are everything I want but have never quite achieved in a Dungeons & Dragons group, and I admit it makes me a little jealous.

Here’s the list of players and the characters they play, as well as one of their most notable roles (in that order). Keep in mind that while I know a lot of these people from video games, cartoons, or anime I’ve seen in the past, many of them are very prevalent actors in general.

Matt Mercer, Dungeon Master: McCree from Overwatch

Liam O’Brien as Vax’ildan (half-elf rogue): Illidan from World of Warcraft

Laura Bailey as Vex’ahlia (half-elf ranger): Jaina from World of Warcraft

Taliesin Jaffe as Percy de Rolo III (human gunslinger): Darion Morgraine from World of Warcraft

Marisha Ray as Keyleth (half-elf druid): Diamond Dog Soldier from Metal Gear Solid V

Travis Willingham as Grog Strongjaw (goliath barbarian): Roy Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Sam Riegel as Scanlan Shorthalt (gnome bard): Spider-man from The Amazing Spider-man 2 (video game)

Ashley Johnson as Pike Trickfoot (gnome cleric): Ellie from The Last of Us

Orion Acaba as Tiberius Stormwind (dragonborn sorcerer): Crazy Dave from Plants vs. Zombies

For starters, Matt Mercer, the Dungeon Master, is the most amazing DM I have ever seen. Not only does he spin awesome tales so well it looks like the entire game was made for this setting rather than an open-world thing he made up, but he is also an amazing voice actor. Never have I seen somebody be able to so accurately mimic what I would imagine monsters like giant spiders or goblins to sound like. And he does it all on the fly, too!

The party of this campaign is also pretty great. I could tell you what I like about each and every person in the cast, but since there are eight of them, it would take too long. Suffice to say that they’re all great in their own right. They’ve each had amazing moments, and while some characters are more enjoyable than others, you can tell they really love not only their own character but the characters of the rest of the party as well. This is a group of people that have grown to love each other and the game. You can really see what Dungeons & Dragons is all about by watching them play.

My favorite part about this game is that I can learn more about it as both a player and dungeon master just from watching it, and I get to experience this amazing story at the same time!

This is an ongoing campaign, as well. They stream it live every week, and they’ve been going for about four years, I believe, and they’ve filmed the last two. This means that there are well over a hundred hours of their campaign that you can go and watch right now, so just a fair warning there.

So, as a parting gift, here is a link to one of everybody’s favorite characters that Matt Mercer cooked up on the spot. It just goes to show that you don’t have to develop a huge boss monster or an important king to make a non-player character memorable.

Review — Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I know it’s been some time since Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild released, but I have yet to give my complete thoughts on it, and anything that occupies my time for as long as this game did is deserving of a sincere, quality post. I put over eighty hours into this game, and I could start over from scratch in a heart beat. (Whenever I start over like that I like to set rules for myself, for ex. “No buying armor”.)

But before I get into this game specifically, let me talk about my background with the Legend of Zelda franchise. The first game I had ever played (to any substantial degree, at least,) was Twilight Princess. I had access to older classics like Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, but I was too young to really enjoy those. So while Twilight Princess was the first installment I had really played, it was also the only one I had ever beaten. I went back to play some older ones later, but they couldn’t catch me like that one did. Legend of Zelda had never really been my thing, because I had always imagined them as being “dungeon crawler puzzle games”. For me, I typically enjoy either one or the other, because I get worse and worse with puzzles the more variables you throw in.

But when I saw the teaser trailer for Breath of the Wild, and the open world adventure it promised, and I was beyond excited. An open world puzzle game? Now that is something I would want to get my hands on. If it’s anything I like in a game, it’s a steady advancement as the character advances from a wooden practice sword to the Master Sword. Quite literally, in this case. This is the only Zelda game I have ever been hyped for. And man, did it deliver.

There are so many things that this game did remarkably, it’s hard to know where to begin. I think having unique places that are interesting to explore is a huge one. In most open world games, I go to the points on my map I know will lead to things. In Elder Scrolls games, for example, there are countless ruins and dungeons to explore, but they’re all pretty much the same and there is no promise of reward. After all, it might be the location of a quest you haven’t found yet, making the prospect of exploring pointless because you need the quest to get the reward or even explore that dungeon in the first place. But in Breath of the Wild, there are no such apprehensions. I can pick a direction and run with the certainty that I will find interesting things along the way. I couldn’t tell you how often I was sidetracked, logging on for the day with a specific goal in mind like “Explore X region”, only to find myself waging war with all the monsters in an area in a mad frenzy to get all of the materials I need to buy or make something. It’s amazing how Nintendo managed to make every possible task in this game interesting.

The second part about this game is related to the first, and that is the fact that this is a world you are discovering for the first time. The first time you see a big bad enemy you’re scared because you don’t know what it can do. The first time you explore a region you’re curious because you don’t know what is just beyond the corner. The first time you encounter one of the many strange events happening you’re awestruck because you’re forty hours into the game and how is this the first time you’re seeing this thing. (That happens a lot.) This game’s draw distance is also remarkable. You can always see across the entire continent, staring at the distant volcano from the other corner of the map. I can’t tell you how often I marked a spot in my map when I was using my “binoculars” and was astounded to see how far away that point on the map was from me.

There really is no end to the majesty of the game. Constantly finding new and better weapons as you explore new areas, and obtain more and more Heart Containers as you get Shrine Orbs is a great feeling, because you get a very real sense of progression as you play. Plus I’m a sucker for new types of armor, and a lot of them have their uses the more you play! There isn’t one set of “best, always wear” armor.

Here are the three things I hated most about this game. They’re common complaints, I’m sure, but compared to the overwhelming graceful nature that this game offers, they’re nothing. My first complaint is that the inventory system is clunky. As soon as you start stockpiling materials it becomes a burden when you switch from gathering ingredients to making food to switching pieces of armor. I wish it was easier to navigate, and I wish you could manually sort the items in your inventory rather than having the one or two “sort” settings, because they don’t stop you from constantly having to switch back and forth between inventory pages. The second thing is making food. Identical foods don’t stack, so making any meal will take up a slot in your inventory, and you can only have three pages of foods to boot. When I’m cooking, I would want to use the majority of my ingredients because, because when I have twenty snails in my inventory, the only way they’re going to get used is by making food. The only problem is I don’t have enough inventory to use that many snails, so it’s pointless. Twenty snails might as well be considered an infinite supply of snails at that point.

The last point is weapon durability. Yes, it’s frustrating how often weapons break, but that isn’t my real complaint. The thing that I don’t like about durability is how arbitrary it seems. It’s impossible to tell how much use a sword has left, because there are only three gauges. Does it sparkle? Then it’s never been used. Does it flash red? That means it’s almost broken. Does it do neither of those things? Well, it could be anywhere from practically new to almost broken still, especially considering how variable durability is across weapon types anyway. If anything, I’d like to see a little bar on the inventory screen that tells me how much use a weapon has left. Can I risk spending durability on this big guy and use it later for this shrine? Or will it break during the first fight? I have no way to tell. I find that a little frustrating, especially considering many weapons have uses outside of combat (which I won’t get into).

Now, this review is already about twice as long as most other reviews I give, and I could go on. This game is huge, and unlike many other open world games, it is far more encouraging and rewarding to actually go everywhere. I think that’s the single most impressive thing this game has accomplished. Is it hard? Parts of it. Some puzzles and some combat can be challenging, but I would say it’s primarily an adventure game and a puzzle game a close second. Unless it is a direct obstacle, you can avoid pretty much any fight simply by running, because most things will miss when attacking you.

So, really, play this game however you want, but pretty much any gamer could enjoy themselves with this game.

Review — Dragon Age: Inquisition

This is the only Dragon Age game I have ever played, first off. I’ve also never played any of the Mass Effect, and have relatively little experience with games that are heavily impacted based on the choices you make. I have no idea what even compelled me to try this game, and admittedly it was quite some time ago when I did play it, but man this game is amazing.

First off, whenever I play a large role-playing game like this, the character I create is always one based on one in my own universe, Nacre Then. I like going through the character creator and making my imagination fit the screen, and when I do play I like deciding options based on what that character would do. So in that sense, there’s no real choice involved, but to me it makes it even more compelling.

The functionality of this game is pretty much flawless. I love the UI, the combat, and especially the aesthetics of the landscapes and world. It isn’t every day you find a game where all of the armor looks awesome, and there are almost too many options once you get into the game. Crafting your own gear and deciding what the color and texture of everything is is a little daunting, since the possibilities are almost endless.

Whenever I play these sorts of games, I always try to set myself up for a challenge and play on the harder difficulties. I can’t remember what the difficulty scale of this game is, or if there was a “Legendary” mode, but I played on Hard and man, it starts getting really unforgiving. I would actually put this as a point in its favor, though, because I love saving before a battle and trying to plan out what is going to happen as if I’m solving a puzzle.

The best/worst thing about this game, though, is that it made me want to do everything. There are three classes: warrior, rogue, and mage, and each class has the more subclasses. When I played, my character was a mage (of course), and when I unlocked the choice of which subclass I wanted to pick, I wanted all of them. Now, if I play again, I’ll be compelled not to play a mage again, because I’ll be experiencing the same content, but I still want to play those two subclasses I never got to see! (It’s worth noting that you can play every character in the party beyond your character, “The Inquisitor”, and that those characters unlock subclasses as well, but its just not the same when it’s not you.)

These are my two major criticisms for the game, even if they’re small. The first is that the crafting system gets tedious. You find common materials you don’t need everywhere, but if you don’t pick them up you’ll run out. On top of that, the rare stuff can only be found in specific places. They’re not “rare”, really, because it’s not randomly generated. If you can’t find them, you’re simply in the wrong place.

My second critique is that while unique, “Epic” armor is in the game, it doesn’t compare to crafting your own gear later on. When you make your own armor, you can choose all the stats you want, so it’s always far better than even good uniques that you literally had to kill a specific dragon for. It’s a little disheartening when you complete a daunting challenge only to find the reward is useless.

As a side note, this is one of very few games that gave me chills during a cutscene. Even without knowing these characters from past games, there was one specific moment that really immersed me into the world, and it was awesome. (I won’t say what it was, though, because it’s sort of a spoiler, but it does happen relatively early on in the game.)

Review — Stories: The Path of Destinies (350)

Stories: The Path of Destinies is a choose your own adventure, rogue-like rpg game where Reynardo, a rebel fox, tries to defeat the evil emperor. Now, I’ve seen pretty mixed reviews about this game, and it certainly does have very clear flaws, but I had a lot of fun with it, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who likes rogue-like adventure games, especially if they have a free evening and don’t know how to spend it.

I’m going to go off track a little here and talk about it’s flaws first. None of them are big, but they do add up and leave a bad taste. The first is the name of this game. Indie games thrive on being memorable, and this is the least noticeable name in the universe. It’s like they got the three most used names in the entire gaming community and found a way to use all three in the title. Now, obviously I’m exaggerating here, and the name does suit the game once you understand what’s going on, but this game would be much more prevalent if it’s name was noticeable.

Second, while the combat is one of my favorite things about this game: it’s hard. Specifically, there is no ‘invincibility’ timer that makes you immune for a second after you get hit. This means that if multiple enemies attack you at once and you don’t dodge the attacks, you can instantly die even if you have full health. Also, since this game has very specific camera angles, there will be instances where you literally cannot see some enemies, and thus can’t know when to time a counterattack if they strike.

Lastly, this game is a bit glitchy and doesn’t have the amount of polish I’d like. There are instances where I got my character stuck and had to start the mission over again, or found a way to walk off the map. The narrator in the story can also be redundant, repeating something he just said in the previous sentence. This doesn’t happen a whole lot, though. And that’s it. That’s everything bad about this game.

Everything else is awesome. You choose your own adventure, selecting different objectives to pursue and, as the story progresses, trying to piece together a way to win. Once you play for about an hour and complete an ‘ending’, which will be bad, you start over. The narrator gives you the same choices, but the voice acting changes because now you know how one side of the story ends. You can choose to go down that same path and make it end differently, or you can take an entirely different approach.

Going back to the beginning of the game never feels like starting over. You keep all your weapons, power ups, and levels, and because the narration changes depending on what your character knows, the story is always different, even if you do the same thing twice. You can make new swords, and this gives you access to different areas of the map. This game is so dynamic that even if you make the same exact actions over and over again, you can always experience new things.

The combat is simple, and one of the most controversial things about the game. I personally loved it. It runs the same way as Batman, Assassin’s Creed, or Shadow of Mordor, where you have a circle of people that you have to counter while attacking. In this game, though, you can grab people and throw them off ledges or into other enemies, stunning both. You can pull people towards you with a hook, and dash to get away or get up close. It isn’t easy. I like to consider myself good at this sort of thing, and I died a lot. Luckily, you can spend points in the skill tree to compensate for what you’re bad at (making your attacks do more damage, giving yourself more time to react, or giving your character more health to name a few).

I will give a minor spoiler here, but I feel like everybody should know this going into the game: The true, correct ending to this game is unattainable at first. There are twenty five different endings, and while twenty-four are bad, you need to ‘beat the game’ four times and unlock four truths before the ‘true ending’ is revealed. It’s a good ending, and it makes use of all the previous times you played it, so I wasn’t disappointed. This game has a ton of replay-ability, and even though I’ve unlocked everything and found the ‘true ending’, I wouldn’t mind jumping back in and playing through some paths I haven’t tried, which is most of them. If this game sounds interesting at all, I recommend you check it out. Maybe watch some gameplay of it on YouTube.

 

Review — Sunless Sea

Have you ever played a game where the story was hinted at but never the focus of the game? In many single-player games, like Bioshock, or TransistorPortal, etc., you could get through the entire game without paying any attention at all to the story, regardless of how in-depth or thought provoking it may be. I tend to enjoy those games for the gameplay first, and then appreciate the story later. I’ve never been a huge fan of games that require you to know what’s going on, like Myst, because the story-driven games never seem to have interesting stories to compel me to continue.

Sunless Sea is a different story. It combines a lot of elements I love in games: slow progression and upgrades, a rogue-like “start-over with a push forward” theme, and a merciless drive to bring the player onto its knees through harsh and unforgiving rules. But when I bring up this game to other people, I set all of these aside, because in the end its not what this game is about. Sunless Sea is a story-driven, “choose your own adventure” game in a Lovecraftian setting.

In this game, you can choose the way you want to play. You can be a seafaring pirate that attacks anyone on sight, a wealthy merchant ferrying goods (often illegal and unsavory) across the seas to dangerous lands, or a scholar, trying to discover everything about this strange and vast world.

Very few games have made me feel a sense of adventure: like I’m exploring distant and strange lands, in the same way Sunless Sea does. I can find myself on distant shores and stumble upon vast treasures, only to realize I’ll have to spend most of it if I want to ensure a safe journey home.

This game is all about risk and reward. It forces you to take risks without telling you what’s at stake or even what the consequences will be. In a way this can be a little frustrating, but it adds to the feeling that this place is a real world, and in this place is real and it emulates how we often make judgments and important decisions based on the limited information and resources we have available.

I do have two major gripes with this game. The first is that there is a lot going on. The screen has a lot of information that takes time to study in order to understand what you’re looking at, and the interface is never as streamline as I would like it to be. You do learn what’s going on eventually, but the game doesn’t do a great job at telling you on its own.

But my biggest qualm with this game is that after thirty hours of playtime, I still don’t feel like I’ve made it very far. I’ve explored all these vast and interesting places, but I don’t feel as though I’ve made an impact on the world, and I don’t feel like the time I’ve spent has amounted to anything. For example, the boat I currently have is the third largest one available to buy, and the other two might as well not exist for how expensive they are and how savvy I am with trading and the economy.

I’d imagine there’s something about the game that I have simply yet to learn, but the world feels pretty much as mysterious and unknowable as it did when I first discovered all these islands, locales, and ports. In a way, that’s a good thing. It definitely makes me want to keep playing. The game is beautifully crafted, and there’s so much going on that I don’t feel as though I’ve even scratched the surface of how deep this world is. Depth like that is good, but too much makes it daunting.