Category Archives: Games

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.

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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.

Tales of Berseria (PS4/Steam)

Title: Tales of Berseria

Platforms: PS4, Steam

Demons roam the land, spreading terror and death in their wake. Even Velvet Crowe, who lives in the small village of Aball, has lost family to their attacks. But her brother-in-law Arthur is an exorcist, and he’s protected them . . . until the Scarlet Night when everything she thought she knew is torn apart. Now Velvet herself is a demon, out for revenge against Arthur, the man who stole everything she had left.

This is a much more solid Tales entry than the last several. It’s connected to Zestiria, but as a distant prequel, so no knowledge of Zestiria is necessary to enjoy this game (although certain nods are often given). However, playing both games does help expand the world.

The plot stays compelling throughout. Tales games have a tendency to lose focus along the way, surviving more on the character interactions than the main plot, but this one stays strong. And the cast is generally very good too. I was fairly sure going in that Eizen would be a favorite, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed everything he’s in—he’s even more fun to play than Velvet against trash mobs, where he can go into full shadow-dragon fury. And his dour outlook, Reaper’s Curse (basically Murphy hates him), and nerdy interests kept him fun from a story perspective too. Pretty much every favorite skit I have involves Eizen in some major way. (See the skit Two Headed Coin for a great example).

Gameplay was generally solid, but the new Souls system led to a rather unbalanced feel overall for me. This is the only Tales game I played the majority on Hard from the beginning (moving up to Chaos by the final dungeon) because the enemies died too fast otherwise. On the other hand, especially with bosses, getting stunned/statused down to one soul means a really not-fun time trying to get it back when you can only do one attack at a time. I liked the equipment mastering system, but overall I preferred Zestiria’s system. I got the 30 hour menu achievement NORMALLY playing through this game because I was micromanaging my equipment so much. At least with Zestiria it was possible to both create a build, and feel no need to upgrade it until you had a better one in mind.

The game also contains a number of minigames (the card one is especially fun), a decent number of in-game costumes, some optional areas, and the usual postgame dungeon. So there’s a lot of content, and what isn’t fun is usually skippable.

The New Game+ option unfortunately doesn’t let you carry forward some of the more useful items, like the geoboard, which doesn’t come in until late in the story, or any of your equipment (although you can choose to carry forward mastered skills). But you can carry over various gameplay features, and the usual bonuses to grade/exp/gald.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with this game. I beat the main story in about 112 hours, but mostly because I’m slow, I micromanage equipment, I let the card game distract me for way too long, and I had to keep redoing sections of the final dungeon. It does make me sad that Zestiria couldn’t get the same attention to detail as this game. Despite being set in the same world, Berseria got the depth it feels like Zestiria failed to reach—little things like how Eizen will talk about Edna here, but Edna basically never mentioned Eizen in Zestiria. On a personal level I think I enjoyed Zestiria more, because I like happy-go-lucky stories better than the grimness of a revenge-focused narrative, but objectively Berseria does a lot of things better. I rate this game Highly Recommended.

God Eater Resurrection (PS4/Vita/Steam)

Earth has been overrun by a new lifeform dubbed Aragami. These creatures will eat anything, and in a short period of time have devastated the earth. An organization called Fenrir has succeeded in creating artificial Aragami as weapons, and the so-called God Eaters who wield them are the only force capable of standing against the remnants of humanity and total destruction.

I can see why people think the plot of the first game is better than the second, although to my mind the anime actually did a better job of fleshing out the earliest story arc. Lindow doesn’t have much time to make an impression before things go haywire, and the aftermath feels a little strong for someone the player will hardly know. It’s almost more fun in the second arc piecing together who he really was, and what he’d been doing, and why he got into such a mess. And I like Ren, who is hugely critical of Lindow to the point where you can’t really tell if he thinks anything much of the guy everyone else admires. (And Ren pretty much requires rewatching a few of his cutscenes later on in the game to notice something that isn’t spelled out until later.)

Character-wise Soma, Ren, and Shio were the only ones who really made an impression. Soma has a very interesting backstory, although the game never gets really deep into it, but it’s interesting how he struggles between doing what his father commands and hating him for it (and then trying to deal with all the fallout from his father’s actions), along with the unusual circumstances of his birth.

The gameplay for this remains strong, although I struggled a lot in the beginning until figuring out ways to compensate for lower-damaging moves. Thankfully the Aragami can all be killed with melee only, although once you progress far enough to unlock the best sniper gun line (level 4) and the best blast gun (level 10), guns offer a handy alternative to those monsters you just aren’t in the mood to fight again. New type God Eaters are still a rare thing, so you don’t get more than a handful of characters who can both shield themselves and shoot you a healing bullet, which makes HP management a bit more of an issue here.

Resurrection, since it takes place before Rage Burst, doesn’t offer some of the enhancements found in the later game, but it does have its own unique gameplay in the Predator Styles. Basically, the devour function that allows you to steal enemy bullets and a bit of a power-up was revamped to allow for different moves, such as a dash-and-devour, arial devours, etc. In addition, the five different devour actions allow you to equip bonuses (basically free skills) that will apply once that form of devour is used and remain until that particular burst bar runs out (or in the case of melee/gun boosting, until your next melee/gun attack).

The menus have also gotten a welcome revamp. Now each weapon type has its own page, so you can more easily find just the recipes you’re interested in crafting. I was a little frustrated that it was harder to keep a non-elemental weapon early to mid-game (at least for Spears), but the crafting system in other ways is less frustrating because you have more missions featuring only a single Aragami, so it’s much easier to go after the particular ingredients or tickets you’re missing.

Overall this is a great bonus to have bundled into the God Eater 2: Rage Burst game, which is how I would recommend buying it, as you can get both games for a reasonable price. I beat all the plot missions around 55 hours, but am still working on missions I missed completing and trying to platinum the game. I rate this game Recommended.

God Eater 2: Rage Burst (PS4/Vita)

The modern world has crumbled under the onslaught of a new life form, dubbed Aragami. These creatures rise and eat everything, and cannot be stopped except by artificially-created Aragami modified to be weapons. These God Arcs are wielded by humans synced to them, the God Eaters. You play a user-defined protagonist who just tested positive for compatibility for your own God Arc.

I bought this game almost by accident. I hadn’t really heard of it, and all the comparisons to Monster Hunter left me doubtful if I would enjoy it. But it had some Tales crossover appeal (some God Eater costumes and monsters appeared in Zestiria, and some Zestiria costumes were a day one bonus for God Eater), and the combat didn’t look too bad. I ended up getting the game and quickly fell in love.

The gameplay is really fast-paced. You have a home base where you can talk to other characters, craft or buy things, or accept missions. Once you’ve chosen a mission, you can leave, and you’ll be deposited on the field. The Aragami aren’t trying to hide from you, and will show up on your map, so it’s generally very quick to get into the action. And for about the first half of the plot, the individual missions are pretty fast to complete. Later in the game, partially due to the increased number of enemies, it started taking longer, but an average mission could still be 10-15 minutes.

If multiplayer is more your thing, then the game does have a multiplayer mode. I don’t really care for multiplayer and never tried it, but it does give the option of doing the more difficult missions with real people instead of the NPCs. That said, those NPCs are really good at staying alive (although the ones with shields tend to be better than the ones with only guns, as those characters can’t block). They may not melee half as well as you, but they can resurrect you and heal you, and it was very rare for them to die more often than I did.

The God Arcs have spoiled me for weapons from other games. Your single weapon transforms between shield, gun, and melee weapon of choice. You have three types of shield, four types of gun, and six types of melee weapon. Although you can’t switch equipment mid-mission, you can switch between missions. I really enjoy the ability to switch between short range and long range attacks on the fly. Your melee attacks charge an energy meter used to fire your gun, so battles are generally an initial volley (or for the blast gun, you can stockpile the meter) followed by some melee where you can drop a bullet or three every time you’ve got enough for another shot.

The game provides a number of bullets but you can also customize your own. This isn’t well explained in the game, but plenty of recipes exist online, or you can modify the bullets provided by the game and test them in the bullet editor before bringing them out on the field.

Although bullets tend to deal more overall damage, melee has its own tricks in the form of Blood Arts, which can modify various aspects of your attack to be more powerful. A well-aimed Blood Art can easily do as much damage as most bullets.

It’s also trivial to switch between weapon types, as you can craft an appropriate level of equipment and the Blood Arts (or Blood Bullets, for a gun) will level more rapidly against powerful enemies. So it only takes a small number of missions to get to a comparable level with at least one Blood Art on a new weapon type.

The crafting system has a good amount of depth, but also some shortcuts. You have a list of craftable weapons, and anything less than rank 15 can be upgraded to an eventual rank 15 form. Many of the upgrades aren’t available to craft directly, but upgrading will allow you to carry over the previous form’s skills, and it’s generally cheaper than crafting directly. So old weapons can be made useful again for less than the cost of a new one. If you don’t have a certain material required to craft or upgrade, every mission has some form of Ticket in its reward list. These tickets can be crafted into just about any material, which drastically cuts down on the requirement to farm. At worst, you’ll just have to redo a mission with the appropriate ticket reward instead of worrying about getting a rare drop. (Now, the menus could absolutely stand to be broken up better so you don’t have to scroll so far, but if that’s the worst I can say about it I’m still very happy.)

Clothing can also be crafted. Thankfully, this is cosmetic only, so you can dress your protagonist however you please. And although I hated a lot of the female outfits, I could still find a large number of combinations I liked. (Some NPCs have additional outfits, but sadly will only wear them during missions.)

The plot has good moments. I love the setting: a post-apocalypse world full of broken buildings haunted by monsters. I liked the plot, as generally the story comes in pretty small portions between missions. So even the slower or more generic parts tended to go quickly. Although one twist in particular left me torn between admiring that they went there and irritated at what it meant for my mission teams. There’s also the ability to watch any previous cutscene via the big monitor in Fenrir or the terminal in your room in the Far East.

Gilbert is my favorite character. He’s not as childish or enthusiastic as Nana or Romeo, but his reserve tends to break down in battles (he has some amusing lines on the field. Just try passing him a bullet or pay attention when the Aragami runs away). Out of battle, he’s highly conscious of the responsibility and danger of being a God Eater; his experiences in his former unit earned him the nickname Fragging Gil. He’s also not easy to fool–I particularly liked what he did in a confrontation in chapter 14. I also liked Julius and Tatsumi (I like responsible leader-types).

The music is generally excellent as well. They range from sweeping orchestral themes to quiet piano melodies to more of a rock style. Missions often allow you to choose background music (sometimes the plot missions won’t, but if you replay them you can pick whatever you want). As a nice bonus, once you reach rank 15, the jukebox unlocks, so the out-of-battle music can be entirely your choice (including no music).

I have very few criticisms of the game. This was originally designed for the Vita and it shows in a few ways. The battle arenas are a good size, but can get repetitive since new fields are few and far between until the end, but the glut of new fields there tends to be recolors of the same layout. And the out of battle areas are a few tiny rooms in your headquarters. I wish some of the menus (especially material crafting) had a better layout to avoid the enormous amount of scrolling required when you have the full list of endgame craftable items. And I wish certain monsters showed more in individual missions so I don’t have to keep playing a string of survival missions just to fight them.

Overall, this is the kind of game that exactly suits me as someone who likes anime-styled action games with some deep RPG mechanics (which is obvious when I consider that the only other game that even comes close in playtime for me is Tales of Graces and that was with multiple playthroughs). I don’t remember what my hour count was when I first beat the plot, but I’ve been taking it slowly and although I’ve run out of story, I still have the various extra missions and challenge missions I’m working through. Currently I’m around 175 hours in and still having a blast. I’ve changed weapon types a few times and am still working on mastering all the skills, building an ultimate set of equipment, and so on. It is more than possible to beat this game in a fraction of that time, if you’re just looking to rush to the end. If you like the Tales games, or are simply looking for a fast-paced action game, I would highly recommend checking this out. I would also suggest getting the Day One edition, as it includes God Eater Resurrection (a remake of the first game with some updated mechanics) for free.

Lost Odyssey (XBox 360)

Story: Kaim Arganor has been alive longer than he can remember. An immortal wandering the world of mortal men, he’s seen too much of life and death to care much about the machinations of any one nation. But when he’s sent on a mission to investigate a facility that generates magical energy, the past he can’t remember becomes vital to stopping an ominous future slowly unfolding. Mortal nations rise and fall, but when an immortal goes rogue, it will take someone with Kaim’s experience to stop him.

The story does a generally excellent job of avoiding too many cliche elements. I was especially impressed with how well the rift between mortal and immortal was highlighted, particularly through the various dreams you can unlock throughout a playthrough. These vignettes are snapshots into Kaim’s past, showcasing various aspects of life and death he’s lived through in his long wanderings. These short stories have textual effects to accent the words, like slowly fading in or bouncing around.

The characters, too, were great for the most part. Jansen was the biggest surprise. I didn’t really care for him at first, but his consistently humorous quips soon had me laughing almost every time he opened his mouth. (Listening to him mock the final boss was also hysterical.)

Gameplay: Lost Odyssey is a turn-based RPG, although turn order depends on what you’re doing in a given turn. Characters have a base attack speed that applies to physical attacks, but skills use a different speed stat (and also can depend on the skill you’re trying to activate), and each magic spell has its own casting speed.

Enemies are encountered randomly on the map, and although the random encounter rate was generally good, I did really want a way to tweak it to make it easier to grind for SP (eg, getting a late-game character who has loads of skills to make up on) or avoid battles (TEMPLE OF ENLIGHTENMENT, I am looking at YOU). The battle load time was rather bad, with several long background and character pans before the enemy is ready to fight, although some of that may have been because I did not install the game to the hard drive.

Attacks are modified by rings. I remain confused on how to visually tell the difference between a Perfect and Good ring, but I eventually got the hang of timing it to be able to get at least a Good every time. My eyesight isn’t great, and the ring is a small white ring around a smaller black ring, which on some backgrounds (most notably the last boss fight which has a bright light behind the boss) can make it nearly impossible to tell where you’re striking. However, the additional effects mostly just speed up your battles. A small hint: the most effective rings are the type-targeting ones, followed by the elemental, followed by the generic damage increases (I wasn’t good enough at Perfects to get much of an increased Critical chance even on the best Critical-enhancing rings). Status effect rings are virtually useless since with rare exceptions any fight that takes long enough for a status effect to be useful is a boss immune to all of them. Rings can be crafted fairly easily, although late-game rings have much more annoying requirements, but it’s perfectly possible to play through endgame with only the level 2 rings, which can be crafted through buyable items. Also, on the plus side, rings can be changed on the fly in battle, so it’s easy to swap things around for maximum damage on any given foe.

The main frustration I had with the gameplay is that enemies will only ever give you one item. Since an enemy can have a common steal, a rare steal, and four drop items if it’s fully loaded out, getting what you want can be a real hassle. If you steal either of the items, the enemy won’t drop anything. And there’s no way to increase drop rate or influence which drop you get, either, so if you need a particular item, it’s best to look for something you can steal it from, and then try to get lucky finding it in random encounters. I usually like to max out my endgame gear, but in this particular game decided it just wasn’t worth the effort.

Overall this is a great game, with solid visuals and excellent music backing up a strong story. I beat the game in roughly 70 hours and did 100% of the available content and learned all the skills (though I didn’t bother to platinum the game due to one particular fight sequence that is designed to make getting the treasure trophy next to impossible). There isn’t much benefit in the New Game+ offered, so I doubt I’ll replay it anytime soon, but it was a lot of fun going through the first time. I rate this game Highly Recommended.

 

Infinite Undiscovery (XB360)

Story: Capell is a musician in jail because he looks too much like the rebel leader Sigmund, the man responsible for going around smashing the chains that bind the moon to the earth. When an unexpected rescue lands him in Sigmund’s group, Capell reluctantly agrees to help. No one anticipated Capell was also capable of that rarest of feats: smashing chains.

The story ranges from pretty good to downright terrible. The general setup is fine, if you ignore physics entirely, since we have the major villains chaining the moon to the earth, but this only affects things like tides when a chain is presently fastened in the water (presumably magic is able to regulate things once the chain is severed, even though the actual moon is still in the same spot).

That aside, I liked Sigmund. He’s serious, doesn’t talk much, and is so focused on smashing the chains as fast asĀ  possible that he’s willing to sacrifice more human considerations. He’s out to save the world, but recognizes (sometimes perhaps wrongly) that he can’t be everything to everyone, and often chooses to ignore smaller struggles as a result.

(As an odd aside, even by the end of the game, no one seems to have made the connection that the reason Sigmund and Capell can smash the chains is because they’re unblessed by a lunaglyph. Since the moon’s power is holding the chains in place, the unblessed can act as a kind of anti-matter to disrupt them. So technically they had a whole village of people capable of doing the job, only no one figured it out.)

On the flip side, the major plot twists won’t surprise anyone, and the harem antics are cringe-worthy (a princess tripping herself to give Capell a panty shot? REALLY?)

The story plays out in actual cutscenes, which I like. Most of the core characters have good voices, though a few (Vic’s attempted accent, more than the voice itself) aren’t as polished. And a surprising number of cutscenes are subbed as though they ought to be voiced but instead have utter silence.

I like the amount of characters. The game has three kinds of characters: melee, mages, and more of a mix. Some of the characters, however, only join as secondary, which means they won’t ever go into a party with Capell. That part was annoying. Several points in the game split the party, which is where those secondary characters can be used, but it also means if you are using them then you need to equip them.

Gameplay: Battles play out in real time on the actual maps, and this worked really well. Enemies can be surprised (or can surprise you) by hitting them when they aren’t looking, and this substantially affects what items they can drop (not fun. At ALL. Dragon Fangs can only be dropped with surprise attacks, and you’ll need a LOT of them just to learn some extra moves for various characters.) But apart from farming considerations, this was a good mechanic. Enemies spawn relatively quickly and inhabit dungeons as though they lived there, such as harpies perching on top of cliffs or pillars.

One limitation is that the only character you can control is Capell. He’s incredibly versatile to make up for it. He can melee with his sword skills, or use his flute to provide more of a support role. He also has a Connect ability that allows him to command an ally to perform specific (player-assigned) skills. I did wish that more than two skills could be assigned for use in battle. They end up being less special attacks and more finishers. The attacks can also level up, but they do so at a rate that put me in postgame dungeon without anything hitting level 3 (the max). And since nothing carries over into a new game, it’s useless to max more than one or two skills you find extremely useful (eg, Astro on Eugene or Michelle to help get surprise attacks).

Also, the menu doesn’t pause, which makes using items in battle something best left to your team.

Vermification battles are just straight up annoying, though. Capell has to play the flute to even reveal the enemy to his party, and that visibility wears off very quickly, and he has to use Symphonic Blade while connected with a teammate to be able to hit them. Except by time you’ve finally got Symphonic Blade charged up, you probably need to play the flute again (if it isn’t already dead). This can be somewhat alleviated by leveling up Symphonic Blade so its synching effects last longer, but it burns so much MP and time trying that it’s hard to bother.

The party AI is very good, though. You can’t set individual actions apart from when Capell connects to someone, but your team will behave in ways similar to their personalities and roles. Capell can issue general directives like Spread Out or Focus to further refine this.

The crafting system is both deep and for the most part accessible, thanks to the free vouchers making about half of the needed materials available from any shop (blacksmithing and some alchemy is great, cooking not so much). I wasn’t as big a fan of each item taking a set amount of real time to generate, as a good chunk of my game time was me reading a book while mashing A so Edward or Eugene could craft something I could sell at a profit. The other annoyance is that item creation can have failure rates. This is fine for things like Salamander Boots, whose materials can be bought from stores, and much less fine when crafting unique items into their ultimate forms. Basically, craft near a save point and save often if aiming for better crafts.

Speaking of saves, there aren’t many. And these are huge dungeons. I spent an hour and a half running around Luce Plains the first time because I couldn’t find the castle I was supposed to be aiming for, and the only save point in this massive map was back in the town I’d left. And there’s no quick travel, which really hurts when sidequests keep pushing you from town to town, trekking back and forth across maps. And you can only change parties in towns (WHY???) which means you’d better either really like using Komachi or say goodbye to the chests only she can reach in one-time dungeons.

It’s not any better in towns, either, since Capell is by himself while the rest of the party hangs out on their own. This is a nice touch of verisimilitude that becomes utterly aggravating when sidequests like “Connect to all your male party members and introduce them to this guard” come up, because you have to grab them one by one and run back and forth.

Overall: I beat the game in about 46 hours, which would’ve honestly been closer to 35 if I hadn’t spent so much time crafting for money so I could try to keep 99 of every material on hand. The postgame dungeon is taking me a bit longer, but mostly because of those dratted Dragon Fangs (I’m not trying to get my HP to 2 billion; I just want to learn all the available moves. Although it greatly amuses me that it is entirely possible to get so much HP the postgame boss literally can’t outdamage you equipping a 3% HP-regen accessory.)

For all the annoyances, it’s still a decent game. The story is too short to have much fluff in it, so it trucks from beginning to end. The real time, on-map combat can be a lot of fun, though don’t go into it expecting something as complicated as the Tales series. And if you’re looking for JRPGs on the Xbox 360, this one is likely worth the $10 or so it runs for these days. I would, however, HIGHLY RECOMMEND the guidebook, if only for the maps. The maps will keep you from going insane. I rate this game Recommended.