I’ve been slowly dying off due to university, evident by the decreased frequency of updates by the second half of the year. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t play any games. In fact, I probably played more, but was too lazy to write about them.
Warning: Huge wall of text.
Sen no Kiseki II
Probably my most anticipated game of 2014. I skipped classes to play this game and my really normalfag classmate looked at me like an alien lifeform as I told her about playing a video game for 24 hours over a weekend and had a one-sided conversation about pre-order bonus tapestries and how they’re a pain in the ass because I couldn’t decide which one to get. During this time period, she became close friends with another person and I ended up spending the latter half of the school term alone. More alone than I usually am, that is.
As for the actual game, although it tries to do some things like Sora SC, at the end it felt like act 2/3 of the Erebonian arc rather than a proper conclusion like the aforementioned SC or even Ao no Kiseki. You’re left with the feeling “fuck I need my sequel NOW” and half of Erebonia unseen, as well as some characters that look super important but show up only in a few scenes. Also the game ends with Rean in a rather grim position, made even worse by the gaiden where he faces against Lloyd and becomes envious of the latter’s situation. The game tries to end on a high note in the absolute final chapter, but even then you will walk away with Chapter 3 (i.e. final chapter of the main plot) burned into your mind.
The game also seems to be rushed for production time, as shown by the terribly slow pacing in the first half, and not as much stuff happening on-screen than there should have for a 70-80 hour game. At least Sen I had the excuse of introducing the setting and characters and whatnot. People complain that even SC and Ao have slow pacing, but as someone who thought those were fine, I can say that Sen II’s pacing is much worse. The first chapter of the game could have been much shorter, and generally the important stuff happen all at once in the last third of the game. I mean, did they really need to make the “search for your classmates that you got separated from!” part 25 hours long? Thankfully, the gameplay itself is fun and the best in the series so far, which manages to make the first half of the game exciting. This really is a game where you like it much more while you play it, than when you think back to it 3 months after clearing and trying to conclude your thoughts.
A problem with Sen is that it doesn’t reach the heights of Ao or Sora SC. Unlike Sora or Ao where you have party members with powerlevels that match the villains, you really are just a group of students and then some in Sen. Even by the end of Sen II, the main group still has to be saved by stronger people more often than not. There are still good scenes that left a strong impression (particularly near the end), but at the end it was more the side cast than the main characters who stole the spotlight. Still, I thought the scenes in the last segment of chapter 3 were really good, even if you knew what was going to happen. The second half of the game made up for the bad pacing of the first half. I hope they use the main writers more in the next game. It would be cool if they did a game like Sora no Kiseki The 3rd, or at least one where the characters don’t start at the lowest powerlevel, so we can get more of the overarching plot.
Despite the main cast being less distinctive than Sora’s or Crossbell’s, I managed to get attached to them by the end. I mean, I did spend around 150 hours in the two games, and will eventually go back to do NG+. I actually quite liked the school setting, unlike some people who like to complain about it. Sen II also runs well and has better cutscenes, with cool action sequences that bring back some of what made the older games’ sprites so dynamic. Despite Sen’s 3D character models not looking too good, I stand by my case that the environment design, scale, and robots are great. In fact, they probably blew all their budget on the robots since Sen II is basically a mecha anime. They look really nice.
(Im)Patiently awaiting the sequel, where we hopefully get to see the other half of Erebonia and finally see things move on (as Sen and Sen II were concurrent with Zero/Ao). Since 2015 is the year of Ys and Tokyo Xanadu, hopefully that gives Falcom more time to plan out what to do for the next Kiseki. Here’s hoping for better pacing, and generally more stuff like the latter half of Sen II happening. Laura and Fie best girls. Towa was cute too. They also did a good job making you care for the NPC schoolmates and teachers, which is a pretty damn good feat for a game with so many of them. Basically everything I liked about this game is pretty much why I like the series on a whole, so it’s much easier to complain about the parts I didn’t like. My RPG of the second half of the year still (first half goes to Ar nosurge).
The combat has evolved to become like Mana Khemia. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, the story is the worst in the Dusk trilogy. The plot has been getting worse with each entry, as Gust tried to give the series more emphasis on story than the Arland games, but the Atelier team is not particularly good at it and it started falling apart after Ayesha. Perhaps Ayesha was just too good with its story and setting, and more like an irregular for the series. Anticipated to be the conclusion to the Dusk trilogy, what happens in Shallie is pretty insignificant. The lacking story is a major disappointment since they took away the time-limit system presumably to better focus on telling a story. At the end you get neither the better story nor the fun time-management (although that has been gone since Escha&Logy, arguably).
They did the dual protagonist thing better than in Escha&Logy where the two were together for 90% of the game. Here, the two sides join up halfway through the game, but they get their own separate party members before then. The problem is that the battle system is only fun when you can make a full party…which only happens when the two Shallies join up. Although they advertised Stella’s side as being plot-focused and Lotte as a humorous slice-of-life, the difference isn’t all that prominent and they merge anyways. As for the characters, I definitely like Lotte’s side better. Stella’s party members were dull. Lotte is genki and the more likable protagonist, and her interactions with Miruca and Wilbell were pretty good.
The other problem with the game is that they don’t even finish character subplots, and there weren’t enough character events. There were also no character endings! There are only 5 endings in total and they don’t take much effort to reach. The characters and atmosphere have been kind of lacking since the Arland trilogy, where the cast was brimming with energy, but at least Ayesha had Linca and Wilbell and some good NPCs. And they didn’t even bother finishing Linca’s subplot here, since they kinda just left it as “I don’t really care to find out.” Of the new cast I only like Lotte and Miruca, and they didn’t even expand on Miruca’s backstory much after introducing it.
Battles and synthesis were still fun, but there’s definitely something missing with the lack of time management and plain characters. I think the Atelier team needs to step back and re-evaluate where they’re going. Ar nosurge managed to be much more satisfying, and the synthesis conversations in that game managed to be more interesting than Shallie’s cutscenes. Dusk had a great setting that never got fully utilized, and characters who could have been much more memorable. Linca is still best girl after all these years (the 8th Linca, that is). Shame she isn’t playable (or in the game at all). Character models are the best so far, and the music is still good ol’ Gust. Please keep this up.
After playing Yubikiri no Kioku, I went back to see how the original Memories Off is. There are a bunch of hardcore fans who swear by the first game and think all the later ones are crap, but by now I know not to trust Japanese fans’ extreme nostalgia goggles. Sometimes they’re justified, but this time they’re not. I only managed to finish the main heroine’s route, but it was quite boring. The other heroines didn’t really catch my interest either.
Memories Off is the kind of game where you can see why it was well-regarded at the time of its release, but is kind of hard to care for 15 years later and when it isn’t your first galge. However, it does have a unique aspect that sets it off from your typical high school galge, in the form of its protagonist. The protagonist, Tomoya, appears to be the kind of guy who gives no shits, constantly seen sleeping in class and trying to copy off his childhood friend’s homework and forgets about tests until the day before. There’s a sort of melancholic, distant feeling about him despite experiencing the story through his eyes. After all, unlike the average high school galge protagonist, Tomoya already had a girlfriend in his childhood friend Ayaka…who happens to be dead before the story begins.
I only went down the path of the main girl (and generally considered the canon route), who is a kind and energetic, but kind of dumb, girl. She’s Tomoya’s other childhood friend, and the three of them often played together when they were little. The drama makes sense theoretically, but it was kind of hard to take seriously in execution, and I didn’t care much for the heroine so the experience was underwhelming. The game is also a pain in the ass to go through. Despite being a visual novel, there are enough choices to even consider it gameplay. There are something like over 80 choices in the common route, and most of them are trivial things like “where to have lunch today” or “what to do after school today”. You live Tomoya’s life day-by-day, making some choices every few minutes of reading. This is one thing I don’t miss from older galge.
I might try to give Shion’s route a go before completely calling it quits. I don’t usually like main heroines, especially late 90’s/early 00’s types of typical main heroines, so perhaps some of the other girls would have been better. Well, I own the rest of the series anyways due to sales and Magino Drive giveaways, so there’s plenty of time to find a route I like. I remember liking the teacher and the aspiring actress in Memories Off 2nd, but that was a long time ago.
Moujuutsukai to Ouji-sama
An otome game that was free for PS+ subscribers, so I took the plunge. I was going to write a review, but then realized that I didn’t have much to write about. It’s appeal is pretty much a moege with a fantasy setting. The setting and plot were nothing to write home about, but the game knows to show its appeal through its heroes. I found something to like in all of them (Lucia best boy, though), and the game mostly stuck to cute/charming archetypes for its heroes rather than sticking in some sort of badly-done yandere or surprise☆ possessive dark side. The common route interactions were fun too.
The story played out the same way for all the main dudes, so it got boring from the second run and on. The villains sucked too. A thing I’ve noticed from the few otome games I’ve played so far is that they rarely drag things out the way eroge in the 2000’s do. While I prefer stories that spend some more time developing their events for maximum impact, at least this format prevents sticking a 10 hour slice-of-life common route in a game that’s supposedly plot-focused.
Another otome game. This time it’s a new Vita exclusive, and it seems like Otomate put more effort into giving the protagonist a distinct personality. Otomate is a branch of Idea Factory, who is famous for kusoge, or at least games that are hit-or-miss, and that carries on to their otome brand. So far the otome games I’ve played from them are kind of miss-and-hit, with most of them landing in the not-quite-a-complete-miss-but-not-a-hit zone. This game got closer, thanks to a likable protagonist. The heroes feel rather template, so I actually liked the interactions between the heroine and her three fellow demons the best. Of course, I enjoyed the normal ending.
There’s a 魔界 setting with demons and stuff, but it was pretty lazily done. It would have been more interesting were it to be full of interesting lore like IF’s ex-flagship Neverland series, but for a company that outputs something like two otome games a month (holy shit how do they do this when non-nukige eroge companies only manage like 1-2 releases a year at max?), that is probably too much effort. At least different things happened in each route while managing to be consistent, so that’s an E for Effort.
Routes-wise, I liked Yukine’s, but they just had to pull a ☆Power of Love☆ deus ex machina at the end. I guess it’s kind of expected, considering the company’s habits and genre, to give a happy ending and romance priority over logic and consistency, but it’s disappointing that I have to expect that. The pacing was good, though. Scenes never overstay their welcome, and even the common route had a bunch of comedy to keep things interesting. At first I liked Ryouga, but the direction his route took was…not very good. The other two routes were pretty solid.
I guess I should start looking at some of the other otome game companies, since Idea Factory is the kind of company that likes to reuse the same template and generally never change until a major shift in the industry (like the one that caused them to ditch their Neverland series and focus on otome games and moe+lewd RPGs from Compile Heart). The writing (as in, the actual text) in most of their games is pretty bland. Or I just need to find a character type that I really like so I can fall into their trap like I did with their RPGs.
Despite the lukewarm reception (to put it nicely) in Japan, I had a blast with this game. Of all the hunting-type games, FW’s combat mechanics were the most appealing. You could cling onto walls and stuff! Unfortunately, weapon crafting and upgrading is a major pain in the ass that takes real time and gives you random results, and human enemies are a pain in the ass. When faced with lots of human enemies, it becomes less of a hunting game (which tend to favor melee), and more of a third-person shooter that requires quick reflexes and good aim. The best example of this is the Code 7 mission, where you’re solo and have to fight a bunch of humans with guns. As for melee enemies? You either take them out before they get to you, or they lock you in a combo that you will most likely die from.
Your character is super fragile and you can easily lose all your health in two or so hits from an Abductor (the boss-like giant monsters that are like what you usually find in a hunting game), but thankfully, you are allowed to die as many times as you want given that an ally or you Accessory revives you immediately. Past the revival timeframe, you are dead and lose a Sustainability. Lose them all and you fail the mission. It sort of makes up for the fact that your character can’t take a hit, but your allies are dumb and don’t realize that they can do long-range revival by using their thorn on you. Instead, they will come running towards your corpse that’s lying at the feet of an Abductor and get killed.
The story starts off interesting, presenting you with an extremely dystopian setting, but the oppressive atmosphere is gone beyond the first chapter and you’re presented with a crappy plot that’s rushed and not even complete. But I didn’t play the game for the story, so that’s ok. Combat is fun. I suppose the fact that the game launched at a cheap price, had online from the start, and the rebalancing patch built-in made it much more well-received in the West than in Japan. The English release (which was still fully voiced in Japanese) taking out Accessory voice customization was just a low blow, though.
The graphics look really good compared to most games on the Vita and the designs are stylish. Other companies, are you even trying?
Phantasy Star Nova
A mission-based ARPG that tries to be the Vita successor to the Phantasy Star Portable series. The story is super cliche and you can pretty much guess what’s going to happen, but the NPCs sidequests have some fun dialogue.
Gameplay is quite fun at first, but easily gets repetitive. I picked the Ranger class because glowing guns are super cool, and they turned out to be super broken if you know what you’re doing. Character appearance customization is great and there are more and better clothes than Freedom Wars, plus you can be a mech with lots of glowing parts (this is important). The environments look beautiful, and the game is graphically impressive. Oh, and there are attachments that you can put on your weapons to customize their stats and appearance. This is really fun. You also unlock base customization halfway through the game, and that’s neat too.
The game downfall is its lack of content. The main story can be cleared in 25 hours, and the variety of weapons and armors that you can make is disappointing. I loved the idea of being to create mid-air platforms to attack higher parts of the Gigantes, but there weren’t enough variations for this system to realize its true potential. There are post-game quests, but everything feels more or less the same by that time and there isn’t enough to keep the game truly interesting. I really wanted to like the game more, but my enthusiasm wore off earlier than expected.
I really hope there’s going to be an expanded edition or sequel, it’d be a waste to just leave it at Nova. I want to be a glowing mech with twintails and guns again. Oh, and Sega putting up a bunch of EXP up DLC is completely unnecessary because you level up really fast in this game. Not that that kind of DLC is ever necessary, but if you wanna jew people with DLC exp or cash, at least do it in a game where leveling up is actually hard.
Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney
A crossover between the two series that has a medieval fantasy flair to it. The main characters from both series are whisked away to a mysterious town called Labrynthia where witchcraft is illegal and they hold witch trials for those who are suspected of being witches. When given a guilty verdict, the defendant is executed by being dropped into a pit of flames.
Thanks to Shu Takumi of the original Ace Attorney trilogy fame, this game is hilarious. However, the plot and setting is a Layton game at heart, which means you get lots of ridiculous twists to try and explain the amount of bullshit technology that goes into making things that seem like magic possible. The setting also brings it more towards Layton than Ace Attorney, but you do get some cool trial mechanics like having to cross examine multiple witnesses at once and finding parts where they contradict each other. The puzzles and trials are easier than their counterparts from their respective series, but that’s a given since a crossover game would ideally introduce fans of one series to another. There are also half the amount of puzzles compared to a normal Layton game.
On Phoenix Wright’s side, the very first trial of the game takes place in modern day London and was fun and fit in with the series. The rest of them take place in Labyrinthia, where modern technology does not exist and and you have to work with fantasical concepts like magic. It feels like you’re arguing about plotholes given the laws of a fictional universe. It’s a different take on the trial system, but manages to have some hilarious dialogue and charm reminiscent of the early games, despite the wildly different setting. It’s just that the overall game feels more Layton than Ace Attorney, which is a downside since I’m a bigger fan of the latter.
The English voice acting is really cheesy, and so is the finale, but the trials were hilarious and fun, despite being easy, so they made up for some of the worse parts of the plot.
It was free on PS+ so I decided to give it another try. I played the PSP version long ago and wasn’t impressed, but perhaps this time I would enjoy it more since I’m actively trying to enjoy things these days. It was as dull as I remember, with the drama being difficult to take seriously and the characters being much less likable than 428’s. It’s basically 428 for kids plus some typical sci-fi plot threads. I don’t usually replay VNs in fear of ruining my good memories, but in this case I had nothing to ruin.
Square Enix’s mobage where you play as Arthur in Great Britain, complete with magic and robots. Well, one of the millions of Arthurs out there who pulled the sword and are now a contender for king. The story is actually more interesting than I expected, but the gameplay is dull. You collect cards, create decks, and…watch battles play out automatically without requiring your input. Whether you win or lose is entirely dependent on your cards and combo setup. The game is kept alive by its frequent events and collaborations, but I’m already addicted to Chain Chronicle V so Million Arthur doesn’t feel that compelling to keep up with. The card illustrations are nice, the tits jiggle when you browse through your cards, and the story mode is fully voiced.
Chain Chronicle V
I found it! I found the f2p mobage that resonated with me and am now contributing to the death of console gaming! This is the game I lost sleep for and also the first free-to-play game that I spent money on thanks to its awesome collabs. It had an Atelier, Danganronpa, and Sen no Kiseki II collab! I obviously regret it now considering how my strongest cards were obtained without paying money (unless you take time == money literally), but it’s a fun game so I guess it was ok. V is the Vita version of the mobage, and I stuck with it since launch. I tried out the actual phone version too, but it got too annoying due to forced touch-screen controls, a small phone screen, and constant prompts for sharing on social media and such. The Vita version doesn’t pester you with Facebook shit or ads that have nothing to do with the game, so I like that. They also patched in button controls for the battles and it feels better.
Speaking of the battles, it’s a real-time thing where you drag your character to an enemy to attack. The enemy comes in from the left side of the screen and you must defeat them before they reach the right side of the screen, or else it’s a game over. You collect units, who can be leveled up via fusion. If you fuse a copy of a unit onto itself, it increases the base’s level cap by 5, up to a max of + 20. The highest level you can go is lv. 80 by fusing four copies of an SSR onto itself, but good luck getting 5 copies of the same SSR when their gacha drop rates are in the single digits.
The good thing about the game is that although it becomes quite challenging in the middle and you almost feel like it’s designed for you to pay money to win, there are many opportunities to acquire SSRs without paying a cent. My strongest characters are acquired through a timed event where the SSR drops in event battles, and a daily login bonus/ring exchange. On the 25th day you login within a given month, you get rewarded with an SSR. It’s entirely possible to form a party of SSRs through the login bonuses alone, and the story missions in the game give you lots of spirit stones which you can use to try out the gachas. While the SSRs have a 1% drop rate normally (absolutely terrible), there are often events that raise the drop rate, or limited-time gachas that have a much better drop rate.
This is the first mobage where I actually cleared the main story. It was really cliched, but the impressive part is that every single obtainable unit has their own side story. Some of them are serious stories about loss and revenge, while others can be fun and silly like secretly visiting a cat cafe at night. The collab characters have their own stories too, and they’re usually in-character! It’s an f2p game designed to suck the money out of your wallet, and I’ll admit that I get suckered in by illustrations of bishoujo a little too easily. But hey, at least I’m not like those guys on my friends list that always have the latest event SSR 4’ed…
That should be all for 2014. I’ll try writing real posts this year instead of shoving everything into one.