Generally my free time is all but devoted to reading, but since the majority of my time the last few months has been due to either being sick or injured I actually have spent far more time playing video games. Not surprisingly, I have thoughts on this!
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Okay, let me just say it: I was obsessed with this game when I first got it. Alsatian has blossomed from a sleepy little town to “the perfect town” that “nobody wants to leave.” Er, except all the animals I’ve become close to because peculiarly the game is coded that way. I guess it makes sense if your AC goal is to meet as many of the characters as possible, but considering it’s generally a chore to become besties with your neighbors and often by this point you’re really fond of them I find that incredibly irksome. Every couple of days I have to run around and make sure no one flags me about moving lest it be one of my favorites, including the single “normal” character I have who is the only one in my town that will provide me with suggestions for fantasy-themed projects like benches and bridges. So far she’s only ever given me the streetlamp as a project, which I love since it matches my town hall and train station.1
Anyway, after three months of visiting my town daily, I started to feel really burnt out, which I think was partly because I had run out of new things to do. So, I haven’t really played it much in the last few months, but eventually I’ll pick it back up even though I’ll have to deal with the ramifications of neglecting it.2 In any case, I have had an absolute blast with this game and it is easily the best of the Animal Crossing series.
Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix
I never played the original Kingdom Hearts so I can’t really compare the two. In fact, I really didn’t know anything about KH games before I popped in this disk and so my resounding feeling is that of bumbling about and stuff just happens. The game is pretty linear, but I never seem to know what to do next or, well, at all. If this were any other game I’d say that was incredibly frustrating, but something about KH just makes all that almost amusing. I guess it’s hard to find lack of direction out of place when your main character is swinging a giant key at stuff. The logic seems to be pretty much inline with LEGO games: when in doubt, bash stuff!
Now that isn’t to say there aren’t elements that I find frustrating because hoboy do I! First, there’s the platforming: it sucks. Sora routinely doesn’t jump when you want him to or you need to be at the very tippy edge of something to actually make the leap or the camera gets in the way, etc. And your party members are stupid. Actually, I can’t even call them party members because to me such a name implies I can control them and no matter what options you chose in the menu here, the AI controls their actions. Sure, there’s the “assist me” button, that can either call them over to aid you or direct them to attack the enemy you have targeted. But that always seems to do the opposite of what I intend and generally I find they help me more when I’m not trying to tell them to. It’s really confusing. I can only say that there must be something about the wacky combination of Disney and Final Fantasy, though, because for all its faults I just love this game!
Final Fantasy X HD Remaster
It should be noted this is not a remake, but a remaster. Essentially, it’s FFX with a shiny new coat of paint. And I guess that’s why I don’t really have strong feelings about it one way or the other, since FFX isn’t one of the standouts to me among the Final Fantasy series. I like it well enough, but it’s not one of my favorites. And so, I sort of got distracted by a slew of other games and unfortunately abandoned Tidus and company with about a third of the game to go. I’m sure I’ll get back to it at some point.
Final Fantasy III
This is one of the lesser FF games in my opinion. It’s not bad, but it’s definitely an NES era game. It’s an RPG that can be very grueling in punishment. Unlike modern games, there isn’t a handy save point right before a boss or phoenix downs to be purchased and so often you make a trek through a dungeon only to make that same trek again because you wiped. It can be very tedious, but it’s to be expected given the time it was made. No, what I dislike about this particular FF is that it’s gimicky: you can only go through this dungeon miniaturized; you can only beat this boss as a party of dragoons; you can only fight these enemies with a specific type of weapon or they multiply continuously, etc. I think the idea was to showcase the diversity in spells and the fancy job system, but I feel like too much of it is forced on the player. Plus, FFV just does the whole thing better.
Anyway, after trekking up and down the final dungeon more times than I cared to count I had to take a break. I’ve yet to feel up to the task of dealing with the tedium.
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
This is easily the biggest Dragon Quest game ever, which is kind of ironic given it’s also the first to be on a handheld platform. The main story is okay, though, somewhat of a departure from the usual. Also, it lacks some explanation of specific plot points that really bewilder me.3 Gameplay is pretty much what you would expect from a DQ game to the point that I found there was almost no strategy to the battles. Yeah, some have an elemental weakness or resistance and I know the post-game has some very difficult bosses, but within the main story you usually don’t have access to those spells/abilities yet.
Nintendo has shut down the wifi service for DS and Wii games, so I can’t comment on any of the multiplayer aspects of the game or even a good chunk of the post-game additions. Even so there is a ton of stuff to do after the main story. Except a lot of it just seems to be random fetch-questing or really odd tasks that involve fighting something with a ridiculously low level skill. Granted a lot of these quests can be done before finishing the main story, but without following a guide it’s pretty much impossible to trigger all of these beforehand. And even so the tedium isn’t lessened all that much. Still, this is definitely one of the best DQ games I’ve ever played and I really enjoyed it.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
I cannot stress this enough: this game is just breathtaking. Level 5 is truly the master of cel-shaded graphics and this game honestly just blows me away. I find that I’m driven to distraction by it. Anyway, Ni no Kuni has a lot of traditional RPG elements mixed with Pokemon-style monster collection. I’ve never played a monster collection game, so I can’t really compare the two but I find the evolution element in this game is very reminiscent to the fusing in Persona games. It’s certainly almost as complex. The addition of the various monsters makes for very intricate battle strategies and after hours of play I’m still finding out new things. I will say it can be somewhat chaotic with party members and monsters all running about during battle and I sometimes wish I had a touchscreen to select things.
The one thing about this game that kind of bugs me is the fact that the main character is essentially on a quest to bring his mother back from the dead. The story itself is actually really interesting, but this driving force for the protagonist just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. That aside this is easily one of the very best modern RPGs I’ve played.
Persona 4 Golden
Persona games are basically an RPG version of The Sims. And honestly it was that description that kept me far away from the series and boy oh boy was I missing out! This is the first of the series I’ve played and I think I picked very wisely: P4G is an enhanced version of Persona 4, which I think has the best story of the series.4 The gameplay is a mix of daily life as a high school student — go to class, hang out with friends, etc. — and dungeon crawling. What’s surprising is that both of these are equally enjoyable! And that they both actually relate to one another. People you meet and befriend may well end up being the same ones you battle your way to save. It’s an incredibly deep game and very rewarding. And, of course, the whole idea of the game is that your social life only enhances your powers in battle and so one element just reinforces the other.
It’s also a LONG game. Even if you don’t do all the optional side-questing, which is generally very much advised since often times those lead you towards additional Social Links which in turn grant you more fighting ability. I’m just astounded how much is packed into this game and it’s one of the very few I can see myself playing again and again just to see how alternate paths might pan out.
Despite the bizarre name, this is essentially Final Fantasy. A fact I didn’t know about until I started playing and what a pleasant surprise to discover! It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a classic FF game: turn-based battle, airships, crystals, an intricate job system. However, Bravely Default has a few unique elements, most notably the battle mechanic for which the game is named for. I really like the battle system in this game. There’s just as much, if not more strategy involved than the active time battle (ATB) system that FF games are more-or-less known for and I can still walk away and make a sandwich if I want without my whole party winding up dead.5 Plus, it has two things I wish every RPG had: you can fast forward through battle animations and tweak the random encounter rate.
Unfortunately, for all this game does right it still has some drawbacks. Mainly that the last third of the game is quite a slog and incredibly tedious since you are essentially replaying the same dungeons again and again. I’m really surprised by this and sincerely hope the sequel does not fall into the same trap. Also, it’s unabashedly linear to the point the game literally chides you for trying to explore outside the story. Despite this, I still think it’s an excellent game. And I am absolutely thrilled to hear that its success has shown Square Enix that RPGs are enjoyed over here in the West!
- The train station is another project that is a pain to get since it requires 100 visits from friends via wifi. ↩
- AC games run in real time, and take into account time not played. This particular version isn’t as harsh since you can elect an ordinance that does away with some of the negatives like weeds and cockroaches, but you still get reprimanded and guilted by your neighbors for “ignoring” them. ↩
- Why is it my character is tasked with saving the world when I’m the only one who essentially loses her powers? And, why exactly did I lose them in the first place? ↩
- P3’s story is equally good, but there are some thematic elements that just aren’t my thing. Plus, the mystery element gives P4 just a slight edge for me. Both are incredibly emotional and riveting stories, though. ↩
- I was sick for a majority of the time spent playing these games and there were a few times in FFX that I randomly fell asleep and woke up to full party wipe. Oops! ↩