Category Archives: Games

Trails of Cold Steel II (PS4)

Title: Trails of Cold Steel II

System: PS4

After a certain figure’s assassination, the onset of civil war, and his battle against a former friend, Rean finds himself alone in the mountains, accompanied only by the talking cat Celine and the Divine Knight he’s somehow linked with. Desperate to find his friends again, Rean sets out on a journey that will span all of eastern Erebonia . . .

This picks up right where the first game left off, although some minor flashback in the beginning tries to catch up anyone who may not have seen the first game. It’s still better to have played that one first, though, as the beginning will have some rather major spoilers for events in the previous.

That said, I think this game does improve on the previous in some ways. The more flexible format of the second arc means you can actually revisit a few places, and order things as you please instead of being locked to the provided areas. I especially liked that the bonus final dungeon allows for duplicate copies of some of the rare quartz (it may be random, but it’s trivial to do multiple runs, especially after the first time when most enemies will ignore you for being too high leveled).

I think the added flexibility also helps the characters. The English voices remain stellar, and the class being split into smaller groups running their own mini-resistances allows for some of their skills to shine. The sheer number of characters does make it a bit hard to gain enough bonding for the ending event unless you’re focusing on one. (Toval was easily my favorite of the new additions. I like his casual older-brother vibe.)

Despite the reasoning provided near the end, though, I found the civil war largely unbelievable. Even granting that the eastern front was quieter, people were still shooting at each other. The casualty count should have been higher.

One other thing I did really like was that large events end up happening in other countries—and all we get to see is Erebonia’s response, as the problem and solution all happen elsewhere (this feels like a reference to the other games in the series, which I have not played yet). It helps the world feel more lived in to have other people capable of handling various events.

Gameplay is largely similar to the first game. The quartz system has gotten a few new master quartz, my favorite of which is Emblem, which can force most encounters to be triple advantage. Mecha battles are more common, though Valimar tends to be tedious enough to use that I never once called him in battle. Dungeons are still generally straightforward and not that interesting.

Overall if you liked the first game, the second delivers a mostly compelling continuation, with some major character development for Rean in particular. With the ending somewhat wrapping up, but mostly launching everyone into their own dreams, it will be interesting to see where the series goes from here. I rate this game Recommended.

Trails of Cold Steel (PS4)

Title: Trails of Cold Steel

System: PS4

At the start of a new school year, Rean heads to Thors Military Academy to continue his education. But he ends up in Class VII, an experimental new class mixing nobles and commoners, with a new curriculum that has them right in the middle of current events . . . and a country struggling with increasing unrest as various factions vie for control.

This was my first Trails game, and I played the PS4 release from XSeed. The special edition they put out is very nice and affordable, with some of the soundtrack, a steel case, and some free DLC (mostly helpful items).

As an entry point to the series, this works well. I think there are ties to the Trails in the Sky games, but this one assumes you’re starting fresh and lays out its story accordingly. I thought the worldbuilding was the best part, as Rean is in just close enough to notice some of the bigger things going on with terrorists, factional disputes, and some of the more ancient history that starts to come into play.

In fact, if you bother talking to the NPCs around town, each of them has a family, background, jobs, and a mini-plot arc of their own. People in one town can mention friends or relatives you’ll meet somewhere else, or you’ll discover the parents of one of the other students at the school, or you can see how some big event affected jobs or changed relationships.

The class characters are relatively strong as well. A few of them don’t get a lot of focus, at least in this entry, but most of them have some field study that highlights their character. I tended to prefer the guys on this, as Machias and Juisis both have some interesting issues to work out, Gaius is from a native tribe that lives outside the country proper, Elliot is a music major trying not to flunk military school, and Crow is the joker.

That said, I hated Alisa. The story goes with the tired trope of “fell on top of a guy and immediately accuse him of being a pervert” despite Rean doing everything he could to defuse the situation. Alisa then harbors a grudge for weeks, and when she finally gets over that starts acting like a jealous girlfriend despite Rean treating her about the same as he treats everyone else. I picked Crow for the final dance event, which actually turned out to be a very interesting choice given everything that follows. Juisis would’ve been my second choice, as his sarcasm frequently amused me, and I figured it’d be more fun to have a talk between the guys than some really awkward romance.

The game does end on what’s effectively a giant cliffhanger, though, so do be aware that when this says it’s the first game in a series, it’s going to be a related series where the upcoming games are built on the plot of the previous.

The battle system is fine. It’s nominally turn-based, although it might be more accurate to say time-based, with each move introducing a certain amount of delay to recover (which can be affected by character speed, and moves that delay the enemy). So a fast character like Fie might get in three turns before a slow one. The quartz loadout means that you can customize characters pretty heavily, although the required element slots tend to restrict some aspects of the build.

Dungeon design is one area that the game is particularly bad with, though. Everything is pretty simple and straightfoward, and the only complication tends to involve bringing the right characters for field attacks to remove obstacles before certain optional chests. Turbo mode is a HUGE plus, as it makes traversing these mostly empty corridors, roads, and fields a lot faster.

I’m also not keen on the fact that many of the character interactions are locked behind bonding events, which consume points, which the game deliberately restricts so that you can’t see everything in one playthrough unless you are on a second or third run and selected the max bonding points New Game+ option. I hate having content that requires multiple runs to complete, since games generally take me long enough that replaying it doesn’t happen anytime soon.

Overall this was a decent game. I liked getting to see how the flow of events gradually started changing things on a national level, and how everything just ramped up incredibly by the end. And it was also nice to see that Rean, and Class VII, for all their meddling, for all their abilities—are in the end just a group of students trying to address something way, way bigger than they are. And unlike most “save the world” plotlines, this one recognizes that there’s only so much those few people could do.

I beat this game in around 80 hours, and it would’ve been faster if I’d talked to fewer people or spent less time leveling master quartz near the end. I imagine any future playthroughs would be significantly shorter as you can opt to carry over your current level and other perks that would absolutely destroy most of the fights, so that does take some of the sting out of the game expecting a replay. I rate this game Recommended.

Xenoblade Chronicles: Remastered (Nintendo Switch)

Title: Xenoblade Chronicles: Remastered

System: Nintendo Switch

The entire world consists of two gigantic beings, and those who live upon them. Shulk is a young man living a relatively peaceful life in Colony 9, near the foot of the Bionis, despite the relatively regular clashes with the mechanical enemies that periodically try to invade from the neighboring Mechonis. But when an invasion rips away the most important part of his home, he sets out on a journey for revenge, wielding the legendary sword, the Monado.

Third time’s a charm, apparently. I own this game on the Wii (couldn’t read the text on a CRT television and gave up about 30 minutes in), the 3DS (got to just before Colony 6 but playing on a tiny screen was really not my thing, especially for such a long game), and now the Switch. That said, the Switch was by far my preferred way to play, not only for the ability to actually play this on a television, but for all the quality of life improvements the Remastered version offers.

The story has a number of interesting wrinkles, even from the beginning. I love that Shulk is more of an inheritor of the Monado, and that it’s Dunban who is widely recognized as the hero. Dunban used the Monado, lost the use of one arm from it (and had to undergo significant recovery), and eventually joins your party with a different weapon. But he’s not bitter about any of it—he’s there to support Shulk and fight for his sister Fiora. Dunban was my favorite character throughout. I like his maturity, and his ability to take a backseat when needed.

I found Reyn endearing, although Sharla was annoying. Mostly because she’s being set up to have a romantic relationship with Reyn basically the moment you meet her, which, considering the circumstances, is really weird. Riki is more or less the mascot character, so his humorous scenes don’t always land for me. Although I do really like the Nopon butchering of common grammar, like they are speaking a foreign language. Melia is kind of average for me; she wasn’t poorly done but didn’t stand out.

The secondary characters are also strong. My favorites are Kallian (Melia’s brother) and Dickson. Kallian is surprisingly unambitious for a member of the royal family, so much so that Melia has no issues appointing him as regent while she’s off adventuring. As for Dickson, I really like his older-biker vibe (and I’m not too put off by the later revelations).

The gameplay takes a while to ramp up. Combat is more about how you spam skills (and leveling them up helps a lot), so it feels like an MMO. I’m not really that fond of the combat system but it’s better once you have more skills to utilize. Gem crafting is a pain (Future Connected simplified this by making you mine gems directly). Sidequests range from interesting to fetch/kill quests, although if you want to do all the sidequests you’ll probably need a guide.

The best part of the gameplay is the enormous maps. The sense of exploration, finding hidden treasures, or just interesting scenery from odd lookouts, is unlike any other game I’ve played. The relaxed approach to death (at least if you’re not in a story battle) means you’re free to try to sneak through areas with monsters that will flatten you if you mess up.

Overall this is a fantastic game, and I’m glad I finally got through it all. I put about 160 hours into the main game (I’m a completionist going for all the sidequests/affinity/unique monsters; the actual game would be significantly shorter without that) and 17 hours to beat Future Connected. Overall, if you haven’t had a chance to experience this game already, this is by far the best version to try out. I rate this game Highly Recommended.

Shining Resonance Refrain (PS4/Switch/XBOne/PC)

Title: Shining Resonance Refrain

Systems: PS4/Switch/XBOne/PC

Yuma is a young man with the power of the strongest dragon, the Shining Dragon, living inside him. After being rescued from the Empire’s clutches by the knights of Astoria, they beg him to use his power to help them fight the Empire. Yuma isn’t eager to grasp a power he doesn’t fully control, but the Shining Dragon may be the only hope against the powerful Empire . . .

This is a mediocre game, which can still be fun but has a lot of lower-budget frustrations. If you know what to expect going in, that should help decide if it’s worth your time.

The voice acting is excellent (too good for some of the lines these poor actors had to say). Zest and Agnum were particular standouts for me, but pretty much everyone is done really well.

The gameplay is not too bad. The action battle system provides virtually no challenge if you’ve spent a bit of time investing in aspects (I didn’t even get the best magic-boosters and was able to use Agnum to basically solo the final boss in about a minute). There’s a lot of flexibility with setting up your characters to suit your playstyle, and the Grimoire makes obtaining materials much easier. Some drops are restricted by chapter, though, so it’s not possible to craft certain aspects early.

It is disappointing that the “true dragon form” is actually worse than the first form (and the game recognizes this enough to give you an aspect to change Yuma back to that first form, if you feel like wasting a slot). It wouldn’t be as awful if you could at least pick the elements to attack with, instead of cycling through all the elements with every breath. Dragon form is a fun gimmick at first, but it doesn’t take long for un-transformed Yuma to noticeably out-damage his dragon form.

The world map is frustrating. You can warp back to the main city, but there is no way to warp anywhere else, which means re-treading the first few areas of the map over and over and over and over. At least the enemies are on-map so they’re easy to avoid.

Also, I’m not big into framerate wars, but this game was absolutely terrible at managing a decent framerate when magic spells or flashy abilities are on screen. It was dropping to a point where everyone was running in slow motion. I avoided Excella because most of her gravity spells caused huge lag.

The story lacks any real standout moments. There were a few places where I was laughing at something that wasn’t supposed to be funny, like Excella declaring she’s totally for the people in the same speech where she’s willing to sacrifice the whole nation to keep her dying father alive. But there were also moments of genuine humor, and although some characters stuck closer to their tropes than others (Lestin), it was still fun to see the various character interactions.

I’m not a fan of the visual novel format, which looks ridiculous when the screen blacks out to show a slash mark as a substitute for actual fights. I’m also not really a fan of the whole dating aspect, although that part at least is entirely skippable.

You do get some control over the ending, which is nice. I picked Agnum, because he was my favorite character all game, and he had the most interesting hints about what he and Yuma would do after the game is over. I mean, exploring the uncharted areas of the world with a guy who is also an excellent cook (and also cheerful, encouraging, and generally a total best friend) sounds like the most fun to me.

Overall, this is a budget title and it shows. I found it enjoyable enough since I knew going in the kind of game I could expect, but I don’t know that I’d be interested in a replay (I set it down after beating the final boss, with no interest in postgame). It took me about 60 hours to beat the main content, which allows for quite a bit of grinding, so the actual story content could be beaten significantly faster (especially if you don’t max out every character’s affections like I did). I rate this game Neutral.

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (PS4/Steam)

Title: Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

Systems: PS4/Steam

Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum is a boy preparing to become king when a strange man appears from nowhere in his room. Roland is equally surprised—one moment he was watching the destruction of his world, and the next, he was in a different one. But Roland recognizes the danger Evan is in as a coup sweeps through the palace. Together the two escape, and Evan vows to build a new kingdom where everyone can live in peace.

I’ll say up front I did mostly enjoy the game, but there’s a lot of weak points that bugged me.

I have a high tolerance for silly or nonsensical things in game stories (sometimes you just have to in order to make a game play in a more interesting fashion). That said, even though I generally enjoyed Ni no Kuni II’s story, there are a number of times it got noticeably bad. Like a man who has loved a woman for a very long time, and when they finally propose and agree to get married . . . she kicks him out of the kingdom and tells him to go away until their wedding? REALLY?

The worst example is the final boss asking Roland if what he’d done was wrong. And Roland goes, no, you were living according to your ideals, so you’re good. Despite the fact that the entire world was thrown into chaos and lots of people died. This is when the game should’ve grown enough of a spine to say yes, there is right and wrong, and you were wrong, but it’s possible to repent, rather than throw up that complete lunacy. After all, by that logic, as long as humanity’s worst dictators were true to the most important person, themselves, who cares about the people they trampled underfoot to get there?

So….. although I sort of enjoyed the story on a very superficial level, I actually don’t like the plot. Not for being too-sweet and cheesy, but for being nonsense. Roland also needed a far bigger role, since he was more interesting that just about everyone else, but the game had a bad habit of only paying attention to one person until the next thing came along, and then that person is more or less background for the rest of the game.

The gameplay is somewhat better. There’s a sim element with the kingdom-building, a real-time strategy element with the skirmishes, and the regular action-rpg gameplay. The regular fights are extremely easy, especially for those with familiarity with other action-based games, so if younger kids or people new to action games are playing it they shouldn’t have a hard time picking it up. I do really wish there was a hard mode. More than that, though, I’d like more types of enemies. Although the bosses have good variety, the regular enemies most definitely do not. This also applies to field dungeons. If you’ve seen one cave, you’ve seen them all. Same with the forest areas. They use the same area maps for the random dungeons too.

The skirmishes were my least favorite part, because it’s difficult to level up multiple units since you can only take 4 on the field at a time (so I basically used the same 4 most of the game). Also, the lack of any coherent way to organize or warp to the skirmishes makes it difficult to tell which ones you haven’t done yet. There aren’t a lot of story-based skirmishes, but since the final story boss is one of them, some optional skirmishes are pretty much required to beat the game.

I did like Evan’s character design (though I wish his tail had more animation as most of the time it behaves more like a stick-on tail than a living body part). And it’s fun to watch his cape bounce around as you run, as it looks impressively like actual cloth (some other characters like Tani also have short capes). I wish they’d done more with the concept of Roland, a president from Earth who somehow ends up here. Having an adult character crossing could have been all kinds of fun, but the majority of the game moves the focus away from him. The visuals are generally solid, and the low-stakes story was good to relax (when it wasn’t in the aggravating parts).

Overall, I mostly enjoyed my time playing, but I wish the writing had gotten another draft. My play time isn’t exactly accurate since I left the game running while I ate dinner or whatever to let the sim portion gather money for me, so I’m not sure what my actual time invested worked out to be, but I beat the final boss and upgraded the kingdom to level 4 at about 65 hours.

Between the weak story and somewhat weak gameplay, I won’t recommend the game, but if it tickles your fancy it might be worth picking up a used copy. I rate this game Neutral.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Update (NSw)

Well, it didn’t take long for half my review on this to become outdated. Which is awesome. The latest patch (1.3) has corrected some of my most aggravating little issues. Locking blades. More sort options on menus. The ability to skip the entire core crystal resonate animation. Sending party member default blades on merc missions, which allows you to level those pesky “Kill X of specific monster” nodes without actually needing to locate which of the improbably named beasties is the one you want. (Now we just need a “repeat mission with last party” option.)

And then NG+ which allows you to keep all sorts of progress that would’ve been annoying to do again. Not to mention adding a whole lot of fun blades that are NG+ specific and I can’t wait to try out (although I still have a laundry list of things I wanted to finish before starting an entirely new game to get them).

I’m still not thrilled at the only one save file restriction, but I’m very happy that a lot of the minor annoyances are no more. I’m still (slowly) working my way through various postgame things and will probably get around to NG+ a long while from now.

So if the little issues were stopping you from playing the game, the patches actually are improving things a whole lot.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (NSw)

Title: Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Rex is a salvager who dives into the Cloud Sea for ancient artifacts to sell. But when a contract with a huge paycheck goes sour, he finds himself in possession of a legendary Blade called the Aegis. Her name is Pyra, and much of the world is out to claim her for themselves. . .

This is the first Xenoblade game I’ve actually finished, so I’m not going to be able to speak to how it stacks up to either of the previous.

I enjoyed the plot. I went into this blind since I bought it on release and have been playing steadily since then. The cutscenes had dynamic shots and a lot of movement (and quite a lot of things that blow up, which is always fun). And the plot had a lot of interesting twists, especially early on (the Gramps scene at the beginning of chapter 2 was especially funny). I think Morag was my favorite character, for her dry professionalism and inability to make jokes.

That said, I tended to take the plot very, very, very slowly. The game rarely traps you in one place (even if technically you are stuck on a ship or something, the warp functionality still works and you can go back to buy stuff or explore), the maps are big and full of secrets, and once you unlock the ability to summon more blades, there’s always another rare to draw or level up. Even at 171 hours I didn’t get close to maxing out the affinity charts of all the rare blades (this wasn’t helped by needing 165+ hours to pull the last 2 randoms, and the last sidequest blade took forever to finish the prerequisites).

Much of what I spent all that time on is optional, however, and it’s perfectly possible to clear the plot using only story-provided blades and minimal grinding. One nice benefit to being over-leveled, though, is that enemies won’t notice you if you’re too strong for them, so by the end of the game I was walking through all the story dungeons without having to fight anything.

The dub was good. The European accents were a nice change of pace, and I liked most of the voice acting. I downloaded the Japanese voices but haven’t tried them yet (I like being able to tell what my teammates are yelling during battle, as they will often have a “need healing” or “death” quote that reminds me to pay attention to them).

The battle system is really boring at first, but as you progress the plot it does layer on subsystem after subsystem, so by the end of the game instead of waiting on your turn it’s more about juggling what you want to do right now. Using your pouch items well can also speed things up tremendously, as boosting the recharge rate of your arts and/or specials means you’re able to unleash high-powered attacks more often.

The game does have some small annoyances that add up over the course of the game. Some of them have been getting patched out, so it’s possible that by time all the patches are available a few more of these complaints will be addressed. But for now, here’s what really needs an update. It didn’t bother me much the first time, but I could probably have cut 20 hours from my playtime if some quality of life things had been different.

The blade menus need more sorting options, like bonded driver, boosted stat (like trying to find Luck or Agility boosting blades), ability (being able to sort for something like Salvage Mastery would be amazing), or in the Merc menu, “best suited” or something that could prioritize blades by the number of requirements they meet. Because right now it takes too much time trying to find a blade that has the specific characteristic I need. In the same vein, Merc Missions desperately need a “repeat with same blades” option to help grind out the repeatable missions for affinity chart completion. In addition, if the affinity chart nodes would actually fill out when the requirements were met, rather than when the chart is LOOKED AT, Merc Mission completion screens could be simplified considerably, and regular battles/quests unlocking nodes could apply the bonus without forcing me to go back into the menu, find the relevant blade(s), and open the chart to update.

The Accessories and Aux Core menu is similarly a mess that could use more sorting options, like by type so you can see everything that does the same boost together and pick the strongest. And I’m not clear why it won’t stack similarly-rated copies of the same accessory or Aux Core (unrefined aux cores stack, so why not the refined ones?). This means if you’re selling them to clear out room, you have to sell them ONE AT A TIME. Again, this may not be a lot of time individually but it makes managing things harder than it needs to be, especially if you’re swapping out accessories like luck boosters to increase the chance of rare blades and then going back to your old build.

The rare blade random pull mechanic was fine in the beginning, and if all you’re trying to do is get through the game you can probably get a good number of them just by cracking open a few cores every chapter or so. But the gatcha system doesn’t appear to have any stop logic that will say something like “okay you pulled 100 cores so here’s a rare.” This makes getting the last few blades really annoying as it can take hundreds of cores. You can’t release blades on the screen where you summon them, meaning every so often you have to go back to the Manage Blades menu and clear them out. And there’s no good way on Manage Blades to see the stats together in a way that would make it faster to figure out what to junk. Actually, I’d settle for a way to “lock” blades I intend to keep (for field skills or other abilities) and then it would be more obvious what wasn’t a keeper.

Compounding the problem of blades is the fact that transferring them between users is tied to an extremely difficult to obtain item, the Overdrive Protocol. So you just got a tank blade on the healer? Great, either spend your limited supply to move it to someone who wants aggro, or bench that blade for the duration. By end game it’s at least POSSIBLE to grind Overdrive Protocols, but this involves maxing out an affinity chart on the rarest 4 crown common, and then releasing that blade. So tweaking team setups is possible, but not easy once you’ve run through the initial stack of Overdrive Protocols that you can find in game.

And I would have liked more 5 crown blades with less individuality per blade. The game gives each of them a personality, a sidequest, heart-to-hearts, and unique dialogue from the driver, which adds up to a frustratingly limited selection of 5 crown commons. No weapon has full elemental coverage. For example, if you want an Ether Cannon that isn’t dark/light/water/electric, you’re going to have to use a common blade. Some blades have great skills but an element that doesn’t mesh well with the team. And the story blades have a lot of overlap—three fire blades (one can be swapped, but that takes some effort to grind out Tiger! Tiger! if you didn’t get the expansion pass and its ether crystals), three water, a wind blade and an electric blade that overlap with some of the better 5 crown rares. . .

And the game ties certain driver combo (Break/Topple/Launch/Smash) to certain arts on certain weapons for each character. So if you want Rex to use Smash, you’re stuck with his Wind story blade because he has no other weapon type with Smash, and it’s not possible to get duplicates of that weapon. Since battles are basically just trying to set combos on the enemy, whether elemental or driver, having these limited cuts down on the kinds of parties I can build.

As of this writing, there is still some future DLC promised. New Game+ is my most anticipated inclusion, as there should be additional blades available (and, hopefully, the ability to retain the rare blades I spent so much time maxing out in this playthrough).

In the end, most of what annoys me isn’t required to beat the game or even do well at it, but it does drag down the presentation. If the gatcha could be rebalanced, some of the menus adjusted, the maps could get an actual compass, and a few more arts qualified for driver combos, this would be a much better game. As it is, if you like JRPGs, this is still good game to try. I rate this game Recommended.

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (PS4/Vita)

Title: Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

Systems: PS4/Vita

Series: Ys

Adol Christin is an adventurer, but he isn’t planning to embark on his next one quite so soon. When the ship he’s on sinks, he and the rest of the castaways must survive on a deserted island. Only this island has far more in store for them—Adol’s dreams connect him to a mysterious girl, Dana, whose story has great importance for their own . . .

I have never played a Ys game before this one, but this has little enough to do with its surrounding series that it wasn’t a problem. Adol’s adventure is pretty self-contained, with only minor references to what I presume are series staples or callbacks.

The game was excellent. I loved exploring every corner of the island, unlocking its secrets one by one. The gameplay is action-based, and fights generally go very quickly, so there isn’t much grinding required (even if you’re like me and have to horde healing items for longer dungeons, the fruit regrows pretty quickly, and the ingredients for potions are easy enough to gather).

I liked how there isn’t any money in this game–you’re on a deserted island, with only fellow castaways, so what use would it be? Instead there’s a trading system that allows you to trade up or down for various materials.

And I wish the journal was something all RPGs implemented. It keeps track of the expected basics, like a plot summary and the tutorial screens that you’ve seen so far, but it also keeps track of every fish, monster, and material, which makes figuring out how to craft anything a breeze. And the menus are cross-linked, so you can start with a material, pick a monster that drops it, and go right to the screen with details about that monster. It’s such a little convenience, but one missing from pretty much every other game I’ve played.

Because of features like this, you don’t actually need a guide to get 100%. Just keep an eye on the quests in the village after every major story event and things will take care of themselves.

The graphics are admittedly dated, showing the game’s Vita origins. Still, I like the bright, colorful world, and the tropical locations are beautiful. The setting is the ancient Mediterranean very thinly disguised (Greek is the name of the country? Really? I suppose they speak Greece there).

The characters are mostly good as well. I was never fond of Laxia, who has the unfortunate distinction of being humiliated for fanservice right at the beginning of the game. It’s things like this that make it really hard for me to get non-anime fans into these games. They see a dropping-the-towel scene like that and figure the game will be smut, especially since this comes barely an hour into the game. And it makes no sense for her to even have a towel at that point in the game, much less feel safe enough to take a bath, given that she’s just washed ashore from a shipwreck and the local wildlife is decidedly unfriendly.

However, others, like Sahad, Ricotta, and Dana, were much better. Hummel is just kind of there to be comic relief.

I should probably mention the localization is getting an update, though as of my playthrough I only saw the original. It would be nice to get a few of the place names updated to something with less awkwardness in English (the Archeozoic Big Hole is probably the worst offender), but I didn’t find it a game-ruining experience.

Overall, I am very glad I picked this up (would also like to get the soundtrack, and if there is an artbook I want it, because the monster designs are awesome). I beat it in 77 hours, but that was with a lot of exploration, the final boss, true ending, postgame dungeon, and various points early on trying to subvert the need for double jump to get some chests (hint: the characters have different jump distances, and this can also be altered somewhat with moves. So Sahad, if you can get him to do his 4-swing attack in the air, has a lot of horizontal distance, or Laxia has a charge attack that can move her forward). I only missed the platinum because I decided to play on Normal and not Nightmare. I rate this game Recommended.

Star Ocean 4 (Xbox 360/PS3)

Title: Star Ocean 4

Systems: XBox 360 / PS3

World War III left Earth a ruined wasteland, so mankind turned to space. Edge Mavrick is one of the specially trained expedition forces on the lookout for habitable planets and extraterrestrial life. What he finds is an adventure he never expected.

This is the first Star Ocean game I’ve put any significant time into. It’s supposed to be the second-worst, but I found it a fairly good game, albeit with a lot of things I wanted tweaked for quality-of-life improvements.

The story was okay (although most of the PAs you can trigger on ship journeys range from mildly interesting to extremely cringeworthy), though there was one big, big decision Edge makes in the middle that had me wondering how on earth anyone would be that stupid. And the rest of the crew doesn’t help, either—they not only unanimously agree it’s a bad idea, but they turn around and say they’ll still follow Edge’s every order. Even though he’s just gotten a lot of people in a lot of trouble.

And then, following that, Edge goes off the deep end in the other direction, equating showing off in the Coliseum with his big stupid decision. Even though no one copying his moves could possibly do a fraction of that damage.

Also I’m just shaking my head on the reasons why spacefaring civilizations are using swords and bows, even if I don’t care to fight everything with some form of gun.

From a gameplay perspective, everything I liked usually came with a “but I wish they’d done this.” The action fighting system is much lighter than a Tales game, which could be better or worse, depending on how much you like the often-intricate Tales systems. What I missed most was the ability to assign shortcuts to teammate attacks, so you can request healing or a certain attack without having to switch characters (because the AI almost never does what I want once I leave my chosen character). The targeting system is awful. Play a melee oriented character and s/he will consistently target an enemy that runs away—and rather than change targets to the enemies YOU ARE RUNNING PAST, will stick on that first enemy. This makes going for the lots of kill trophies really annoying if you’re trying to do them without setting everyone else to “Do Nothing”. Add to that it’s hard to cancel out of attacks, your spellcasters only fast-cast if you do it manually, stealing requires a knockdown attack . . .

Or take Item Creation/Synthesis. This can only be done on the Calnus. So if you pick up a new party member or finally gather/mine the ingredients you needed, you have to trek all the way back to wherever you parked your ship to use it. From a story standpoint this makes sense, but it’s one place in particular that I wish they’d ignored logic and just let you do it as long as the correct characters were in your party. Oh, and you can only carry 20 of any item, which includes materials only used in IC/Synthesis. And some recipes will call for up to 20 of one ingredient. (And using IC at all means dealing with Welch, who is supremely annoying and badly needs an option to turn off her voice.)

Also I am enough of a Synthesis nut that I went and bought the Xbox 360 version for any future playthroughs because I like being able to break the game when possible, and the rebalancing for the PS3 version cut out a lot of the more interesting synthesis possibilities.

The trek could have been less horrible if there was some way to fast travel. Nope, your advanced spacefaring explorers go everywhere on foot. The best you’ll get (eventually) is a bunny that’s not only marginally faster than your dashing (because it doesn’t hit the slowdown at the end of each dash). Also it takes a while to be able to summon the bunny where you need it, so until then have fun running to the two areas where they are found wild to pick one up for a trek across the giant maps. Which if you are coming from your ship is no help at all.

The Coliseum is fine . . . except the only good way to earn points for the prize shop is to use the bunny races. Because fighting below your level nets you 2 coins, so the only way to earn anything is to advance in the ranks, or try to advance two characters far enough for the reward to be worth it and then keep switching so they can fight each other and swap places over and over. But you’ll still earn more faster from bunny racing. Which isn’t really “racing” because you don’t drive the bunny, you just control whether it dashes or jumps. Also the PS3 version apparently interprets “50 consecutive solo wins” as “must be done in one sitting because reloading from save resets the counter.” Since you don’t get items or monster book data from Coliseum fights (why not? Seriously, this would make it at least a tad less annoying if I could farm for drops/percentage) this is just monotonous. (For the record, I only wanted 50% trophy completion to unlock level cap for postgame, so I could at least attempt Ethereal Queen. I don’t need to spend hundreds of hours for 100%.)

Finally, the postgame dungeon desperately needs a save point, or a fast travel checkpoint. Doing everything in one run would be fine if it didn’t take HOURS to get to the top due to the horrible way it gates the floors. And you have to redo those every single time. I like the challenge of creating ultimate equipment and trying it out against a superboss. I don’t like the assumption that I have no life and can throw away better than a half a day any time I want to attempt that challenge.

Overall, this was decently enjoyable, but the little aggravations were enough to prevent it from being a favorite. I beat the main game in about 100 hours (mostly because I’m OCD when it comes to things like filling out a monster encyclopedia to 100%, but I eventually gave up because beating 100 of the monsters that only spawn one to a mob got too tedious). Recommended if what’s detailed above doesn’t scare you off.

Toukiden 2 (PS4/PC)

Monsters known as Oni are invading the real world from the Otherworld. Ten years ago in Yokohama, the Oni broke through—and threw you through a gate ten years in the future. Now you are tasked with defending the village of Mahoroba from the Oni as a Slayer.

There isn’t much to talk about plot-wise for this game. It proceeds mostly as you might expect (although I was pleasantly surprised by both Benizuki and Kuyo). I like that there is a story mode, though, which helps add some variety and meaning to otherwise randomly going out and killing monsters. The Professor was easily my favorite character, for her snarky attitude and rather dangerous inventions.

Toukiden 2 boasts a world map in addition to missions that can be taken through the base town. I would’ve liked the world map a LOT better if you could warp to any of the portal stones (you can use any stone to go back to HQ, but you can only transfer from HQ to your bases, which makes getting to certain points on the map a trek every time). Also, I was frustrated by the fact that you get a grappling claw that lets you vault over cliffs…. but you still often need to walk around relatively minor barriers, which made some maps (Age of Grace in particular) more like mazes. I am also not fond of the “miasma exposure limit” still being a thing even after you purify an area. It feels like a way to artificially limit how much you can explore without going back to some kind of base.

That said, it was still nice to have actual environments to explore. The game provides both shiny object pickups, various crests, and wooden markers with some backstory as an incentive to poke around every corner.

Your teammates are good at dispatching the Oni, so picking companions for me usually involved picking whomever I needed to max out relationships with. You don’t get any control over their skills, and you have limited ability to direct them in battle (which I never used because I forgot the button combination).

I didn’t play too much with all the weapon types, but there is a good amount of variety. I mostly stuck with knives because I like fast-hitting weapons, although a major downside is that they offer no defensive capabilities. Tutorials are available for every weapon type, and every skill type, and these can be repeated as desired, so it’s easy to sample the various weapons and choose a favorite.

Skills are handled through Mitama, which are spirits that choose to help you. They range from historical figures to literary figures to a few gods and goddesses. Each one gets a nice portrait and a little voice clip, and has a number of skills that can be learned and equipped. These can be earned through the story, sidequests, or by slaying Oni. It can be a big job to collect them all, but just going through the story and doing a little extra will get plenty for a more casual run.

I didn’t care for most of the Oni designs, sadly, with Drakwing (a more traditional western dragon) being a major exception. They do offer a good challenge, though, and fighting them feels more interesting because of a tendency to transform at about half health, which can completely change attack patterns. If KO’d, you get a limited amount of time to be revived, and if KO’d again, your revival time picks up where the last time left off, so whether or not you can even come back depends on how quickly your teammates can get to you, even the first time. This likely isn’t as much a problem for more skilled players but I die enough to find it annoying, especially when certain fights include multiple Oni and it’s easy to get slammed by the one you weren’t attacking.

On the plus side, the auto save functionality, plus the ability to manually save anywhere except inside a fight, means you probably won’t lose too much progress if wiped out, even if you were exploring the Otherworld at the time.

Overall, I had fun with this, although God Eater is definitely my hunter game of choice due to several different mechanics (ranged and defensive included on all weapons, a less arbitrary revival system, the ability to earn unlimited tickets for material crafting, more colorful monsters which are more visually interesting, better story, epic music). That said, I’m still poking around in postgame trying to collect more Mitama, craft a better weapon, finish collecting crests, and so on. I have no idea what my hour count was because the save files only indicate the last time you saved, not the total hour count, and it’s been pretty fun for the most part. I rate this game Recommended.