I am just the worst about buying games and then never getting around to finishing the damn things. Adulting takes up distressingly large chunks of my day, so I no longer have the copious amounts of free time that once I had. This is a problem for all adult gamers, but it is especially a problem for me because my favorite genre, the RPG, is famous for being incredibly long. It’s not uncommon to have to sink over 100 hours into a good, meaty RPG in order to experience all of the content. This means that I have a bunch of RPGs that I have started and am still attempting to finish. Since I don’t like to write up a full review of a game until I am at least halfway through it, I haven’t talked about many of these in-progress games yet on this blog. So here, in no particular order, are my initial impressions of the RPGs that I am currently playing.
Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)
I’ve already talked a little bit about my first thoughts on this excellent game. I’ve yet to be disappointed in a single aspect of this RPG. The battles are strategic and exciting, the voice acting is top-notch, the graphics and cutscenes are expressive and stunning, the 3D effects are well-executed, and the music is appropriately stirring and cinematic. I haven’t yet gotten around to the “tactical shipping” aspect of the game, but I am looking forward to it. I think? It’s got to be less creepy than Conception II.
Chrono Trigger (DS)
This game was one of my earliest RPG experiences. Soon after I beat Final Fantasy X and VII, one of my friends lent me the PS1 port. I really liked the game, especially the time travel, but I remember having a lot of trouble with the active-time battles. Now that I am a hardened RPG veteran, though, the battles are incredibly fun. I love that you need to take enemy positioning into account while quickly selecting the most appropriate techs. The DS port is excellent and having the menus immediately accessible on the touch screen is incredibly convenient. I had forgotten what an tightly plotted and stunningly beautiful game this is. I had also forgotten what a badass Lucca is. A younger me was most interested in the princess, but now that I’m older and wiser, it’s clear that bespectacled, super-genius Lucca is the most awesome character, an extremely positive representation of ladies in STEM fields since 1995.
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster (PS3)
I was very excited when this remaster came out, and it helped me update my very useful blitzball strategy, but I’ve only made as far as the Lightning Plains so far in this playthrough. I am very pleased with inclusion of the expert Sphere Grid, which makes leveling up the characters much more interesting, though completely mystifying to anyone without an already-clear grasp on how the basic Sphere Grid works. The updated graphics and UI are excellent, but the voice acting is more grating and awful than ever (even if I now recognize the mind-blowing fact that Wakka and Bender are voiced by the same dude). Would it have been so hard to include the Japanese voice tracks on this re-release? That might have put this remaster over the edge into the realm of excellence rather than mere competence.
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (3DS)
This really is an awesome dungeon crawler, mixing oddly-addictive Etrian Odyssey-style touch-screen dungeon-mapping with Persona’s turn-based, elemental weakness-exploiting combat. This fusion creates an unexpectedly satisfying gameplay loop of exploration and combat that stays fresh throughout the long game because each dungeon is stylistically and mechanically unique. The story is interesting enough, but so heavily dependent upon an encyclopedic familiarity with the story content of Persona 3, Persona 4, and every single one of their spin-off games that it can be a bit challenging to figure out what the hell is going on. Also, you’re going to have to read a surprising amount of really terrible poetry.
Persona 4 Arena (PS3)
Do you like fighting games? Do you also like visual novels? You will need to be a fan of both of these somewhat disparate genres to enjoy this very odd game. As much as I enjoyed Persona 4, I didn’t ever feel the need to pick this particular spin-off, as I am not very good at fighting games. However, when it became clear that I needed to know at least a little bit about the characters in this game to fully understand what was going on in Persona Q, and when some perusal on the internet seemed to suggest that the game actually had a very interesting story mode, I went ahead and picked it up on the PSN. I was very surprised to discover that the story mode consisted of fully-voiced short story-length visual novels broken up periodically with one-one-one fights. But it’s way more reading than fighting. Like way, WAY more. Every character in the game has a chapter, and in true visual novel-style, it’s all told from the first-person perspective of each one in a literary mode that rather reminds me of overly-earnest fanfiction. The fighting mechanics are fun and easy to pick up, but require good timing to make your combos land. If you like reading stuff for ten minutes, then taking a two-minute break to beat up on someone, this is a great game for you. I’m kind of enjoying it.
Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance (3DS)
I have been eyeballing this game ever since the 3DS debuted and this was advertised as one of the earliest blockbusters for the system. I spied it used at my favorite local game store and finally picked it up a few months ago. I must say, I am extremely impressed by the depth of this game. It looks and plays so much like its classic PS2 predecessors that at times it was difficult to believe I was playing it on a handheld. The 3D is so complex and the battles so frenetic that it can be hard to keep the system lined up properly with your eyes, but when you can keep the 3D in focus, it’s stunning in its depth and detail. There is something really magical about seeing familiar Disney locales utterly transformed by the three dimensions. The touch screen controls are well-implemented and interesting, and there’s even an undeniably Pokemon-esque battle-creature aspect of the game, which uses an interface suspiciously similar to Pokemon X/Y’s Pokemon-Amie, which is odd, because Dream Drop Distance came out over a year and a half before Pokemon X/Y. It’s a really fun interface, though, and any game that lets me have adorable creatures as pets makes me happy. But I’ve just got to say: the Tron levels are fucking creepy. The odd photo-realism of the characters in the Tron levels is weirdly unsettling in three dimensions, especially in its stark contrast to the much more cartoonish look of Sora and the other levels in the game.
Child of Light (PS3)
I love this game so much. Playing it is like a meditation; the smooth, watercolored world of Lemuria is an interactive children’s picture-book wonderland. The music is absolutely gorgeous and I could happily listen to it for hours. I think I drive my roommates crazy, though, because I often can’t help but sing along. The protagonist, Aurora, can fly on gossamer wings, so moving through the maze-like forests, cliffs, and caves of Lemuria controls like a dream. The style of locomotion and general overworld movement seems strongly reminiscent of indie game Aquaria, but the turn-based battle system is all its own. The battles are unexpectedly challenging (though that may be because I am playing on “expert” difficulty) and the story is engaging and interesting. While I love that they wrote every word of the dialogue in rhyme, I really wish that the rhymes were, you know, good. The writers can’t seem to stick to any one meter, and many of the rhymes are terribly skewed slant rhymes. It’s a little painful to read at times. I wish they’d hired a proper poet to do the job and made the game’s linguistics as stunning as its visuals.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call (3DS)
I would have loved to be present for the concept pitch for this game. “Well, you see, it’s a casual Final Fantasy-themed dungeon-crawling DDR game that you play with your DS stylus!” That’s the whole game. And weirdly, it works really well, mostly due to the brilliance of Nobuo Uematsu‘s music. There are so many classic, wonderful, moving, beautiful, badass songs to choose from over the life of the franchise that it seems entirely appropriate to have an entire game about it. In fact, they should have just named the game Final Fantasy: Nobuo Uematso Is Amazing instead of making up a nonsense portmanteau. The game play is really fun and very tricky at higher levels, too, but let’s not kid ourselves. We’re here for the music. Play this one with headphones for sure.
Broken Age (PC)
I both love and hate this game. I love it for its quirky style, its fascinating world, its hilarious and well-voiced dialogue, and its satisfying story. I hate it for its unrepentant adventure game non-logic. While I understand that this game represents a tremendous leap away from the bat-shit crazy puzzles of the previous generation of adventure games (for some impressive examples, see Cracked’s latest article about terrible video game puzzles), there are still some pretty nonsensical things you have to figure out. I have been pleasantly surprised at how many things I have been able to figure out on my own, but some of the puzzles are just irritatingly complicated or vague. For instance, the knot puzzle (a puzzle that is coincidentally one of the puzzles featured in the aforementioned Cracked article) has kept me stalled in this game for over a month. I know I will eventually go back to it, because I really want to find out what happens, but I’m too frustrated with it for the moment. Stupid, awesome game.
Life Is Strange
I’ve only played through a few hours of the first chapter of this game so far, but I already like what I see. The time-traveling mechanic is very intuitive and cleverly designed, turning the protagonist’s life into what is essentially a video game that she can reset at will. This gives the player free reign to try every option in a given situation – if you don’t like where the story is going, you can rewind time to take a different path, and choose the one you like best. What’s fascinating is to see how your choices affect the world around you. The game’s settings seem fully realized, and the voice acting is uncommonly excellent. I am looking forward to seeing how this story turns out.
And there you have most of what I am playing. The most interesting things I am playing, certainly. I really just need to pick one, buckle down, and beat it. I’m just easily distracted.