Category Archives: impressions

Dragalia Lost is pretty, confusing, and pretty confusing

Nintendo has released a couple of games for mobile devices now, namely Super Mario Run, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Fire Emblem Heroes, and Dragalia Lost, and I finally have a phone fancy enough to play ’em. Suck it, Windows phone…just kidding, I loved that phone mostly because it had games on it that connected with the Xbox Achievements system. That said, I’ve only touched the free-to-start version of Super Mario Run and found it both perfunctory and fine, but nothing worth dropping some bucks on. Hmm, I probably should uninstall it, seeing as I haven’t touched it in months. Anyways…Dragalia Lost. Hoo boy.

It’s old-school fantasy stuff, with the story taking place in Alberia, a kingdom where dragons live. Now, all royal members in Alberia have the Dragon Transformation ability, where they can wield a dragon’s power by forming a pact with it to borrow their form in battle. This is just something that happens and is accepted by all. Well, one day, a strange occurrence begins to happen in Alberia, with the Holy Shard protecting the capital beginning to lose its power. In order to save his people, the Seventh Prince, who has not made a pact with a dragon yet, sets off on his Dragon Selection Trial. It’s not the worst setup for an RPG though I am growing tired of magical crystals and shards being the McGuffin to get the plot going. Yes, Final Fantasy…I blame you.

How does this “big” game on a little screen play? Fairly straightforward. Players create teams of colorful characters obtained either through gameplay or by spending in-game currency via a randomized gacha machine-style store to assist the Seventh Prince on his mission. These teams are used to take on a series of bite-sized, action-oriented levels featuring very basic fighting mechanics. Mainly attacking enemies and collecting coins/XP. Players swipe to move, tap to attack, and press buttons via the UI to activate skills or temporarily transform into a giant beast. Yup, sometimes it’s a dragon, and sometimes it is clearly not a dragon, but the game still considers it so. Animal classification is tricky.

If you aren’t working your way through these quick levels or reading the game’s dailogue-heavy story chapters, there’s a lot of other things to manage or tinker with in Dragalia Lost. Most of it is seemingly designed to be confusing from the start. Everything can be upgraded–characters, weapons, dragon forms, dragon skills, etc. There is so much upgrading to do; however, this is a free-to-play mobile game, which means players need to grind out levels, materials, and partake in special event dungeons to acquire the majority of these essential upgrading items. Or, you know, spend real money to buy everything you want. Evidently, you eventually unlock a castle section that can help generate resources, but I’m not there yet. Nor will I ever be.

All items that you will want to upgrade share some key concepts with each other, of which the easiest to grok is enhancing weapons with materials. Each kind of item is upgradeable through the use of various rarities of material, such as crystals for adventurers. The next shared concept is enhancing items with the same class of items. Fine, fine. For instance, you can strengthen weapons by sacrificing other, weaker ones to it. Basically feeding a less-than-powerful weapon to the same type, like repairing guns in Fallout: New Vegas. The final communal upgrade path is unbinding, a term that kind of breaks my brain. Basically, this is how you get past an item’s eventual level cap. With unbinding, you will need a copy of an item to raise how much experience it can gain. It also doesn’t help that the menu UI is a little difficult to navigate, and there’s far too many things to click on at any one moment.

Here’s what really rubbed me the wrong way or just in general confused the dragon droppings out of me in Dragalia Lost. Every time I went to do something new, whether it was a quest or explore a just-revealed menu option…the game prompted me that it had to download more data. Sometimes this would take a minute or two, sometimes it was upwards of ten minutes if it was a sizeable chunk of stuff to install. I thought the whole point of downloading the game from the get-go was to download the whole game. I’m not a big fan of this piecemeal method. In fact, as I was writing this post, I went to uninstall the game and was prompted, from the home screen, that it needed to download more data to continue forward. Funk that.

Still, Dragalia Lost both looks and sounds amazing. The song that plays on the home screen is beautiful and worth the download. Or you can click this link and save some space on your phone. Everything else comes off as both a bit one-note or ultra head-scratchy, and I’d prefer something more in the middle, a little easier to digest. Maybe the Shining Force Classics from Sega–consisting of Shining in the Darkness, Shining Force, and Shining Force II, and which I have already downloaded and waiting for me to tap on–will do the trick. For now, I’ll say goodbye to Dragalia Lost and hello to more room on my cellular device. Hello!

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Mark of the Ninja: Remastered is stealth perfection, once more

I loved Mark of the Ninja, back when I played it in late 2012, and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the game via the recently released Mark of the Ninja: Remastered, which, thanks to Klei, was given out for free to owners of the original title. Y’know, like me. Honestly, I had no idea this was even a thing that was happening; one day, I was skimming through my list of “ready to install” on the Xbox One, as I’m wont to do, and I saw a new icon there for it. Consider me tickled pink and pleased.

What makes this version remastered? I’m not exactly sure. Evidently, there was a bit of “Special Edition” DLC released for the game way back in the day that added a flashback level and new play style, but I didn’t even know that existed, and Mark of the Ninja: Remastered comes with that included. Oh, and there’s also some developer commentary nodes to discover as you play, of which I read every single entry as I find the behind-the-scenes stuff really interesting, especially when the devs are talking about limitations or coming up with unique solutions to problems. I believe this new version also features high-resolution art and improved sound, but it kind of looked, felt, and sounded like the same game to me.

Mark of the Ninja: Remastered‘s story remains the same, so I’ll touch on it only briefly. Our unnamed ninja protagonist–y’know what, let’s refer to him as Larry Ninja from this point forward–is resting after receiving an extensive irezumi tattoo, but is suddenly awakened by a female ninja named Ora. A heavily armed force is attacking the dojo of the Hisomu ninja clan. After gathering up his equipment, Larry Ninja is able to defeat these attackers and rescue his sensei, Azai, as well as several other members of the clan. Then it is off to the races, to take revenge on a corporation called Hessian, run by a ruthless Eastern European plutocrat named Count Karajan.

Dosan’s Tale is the DLC I never experienced during my first go with the game. It’s a flashback level to the early life of Dosan, the tattoo artist for Larry Ninja, which sets the stage for the events that transpire in Mark of the Ninja. It offers a different play style with new, nonlethal takedowns, as well as two new items, one geared toward stealth and the other one being more direct. It’s not terribly long, but it is enjoyable and fun to play a different way; I was mostly a mix of lethal and nonlethal during my two playthroughs, and only focused on being truly stealthy while going back to levels to get all the scrolls, seals, and challenges. The dust moths are pretty neat, and you can use these additional items in the main game’s levels too, opening up additional ways to deal with guards and spotlights and snipers, oh my.

Look, I don’t want to sit here and just rehash whatever I’ve already said about Mark of the Ninja, but it truly is a fun game to play, even when you goof up a stealth section yet manage to come out of it alive thanks to the game’s tight controls and variety of items or options to silence all the guards and barking dogs. My favorite tactic this second time around was using poisoned darts to make guards panic, shoot their co-workers, and then take their own life. Naturally, this helped me get through tons of sections where I just hung to a wall in the shadows and watched the chaos unfold for mega bonus points. I also found myself learning how to hide bodies better to the point that I considered becoming a ninja myself, a true covert agent from feudal Japan. I even went the extra mile to pop every Achievement but one because I’m not interested in doing a new game plus playthrough where things get even tougher for Larry Ninja.

If you already played Mark of the Ninja and found it to be just fine, you probably don’t need to double dip. However, I really enjoyed going back to Klei’s well-designed world, and stealth-killing a guard, stringing him up to a light-post, and watching his friends freak out never gets old. If you have yet to experience the fun that I just described, do yourself a favor and snag a copy of Mark of the Ninja: Remastered.

Burly Men at Sea is an interactive fairy-tale too big for one playthrough

Burly Men at Sea is a pure delight. I mean that from every angle–graphics, sound, gameplay, narrative, the way it holds you close and keeps you warm and ensures that the world is all right and not so scary, even when scary things, scary beings, show up…after all, they might just be misunderstood. I recently acquired a copy via the Day of the Devs 2018 Humble Bundle, along with Full Throttle Remastered, RiME, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, Yooka-Laylee, Minit, and Hyper Light Drifter, all of which I desperately want to find time for to play. I started with Burly Men at Sea for two reasons–one, its general aesthetic speaks to me deeply, and two, it seemed the shortest of the bunch to play. I was kinda wrong about that last part.

This is a folktale mashup available on both mobile devices and PC that came out in September 2016. One might call it an interactive novel, but that’s not giving it proper respect. To me, it’s a whimsical stab at visual minimalism, frolicsome writing, and some seriously disturbing sound effects generated by voices only. Burly Men at Sea was made by husband-and-wife team Brain&Brain and is based on early 20th century Scandinavian folklore. The plot goes as thus: three brothers—specifically Brave Beard, Hasty Beard, and Steady Beard, which are all fantastic names—find a map in a bottle and set off for adventure. Naturally, things don’t go exactly as planned, with one disaster leading to another.

In terms of gameplay, interactions are fairly minimal. I played the game entirely on my laptop, using just a mouse. You’ll spend the majority of your time “pulling” the mouse to the right or left to reveal more of the screen, and this will cause the three brothers to walk in that direction. You can also click on things in the background to see them react in fun ways, which reminded me of Windosill. A couple scenarios later involve you clicking and holding on specific areas, but it never gets more complicated than that. The game might actually be better suited for mobile devices, given how you interact with it and how long each playthrough takes, but this is how I experienced it.

So, the really neat thing about Burly Men at Sea is that it kind of never ends. It loops, putting our bearded trio right back where they started. You can go on another adventure, and maybe this time you’ll see some new things or perform different actions. I did a second playthrough immediately and was pleasantly surprised by what I came across, and I’m not going to spoil it for y’all. This game is designed for multiple playthroughs, but it is perhaps better if you take a break between them. Otherwise, you’ll begin to see some of the repetition. The experience itself is calming and cartoony, and the danger never feels like danger, but the tense moments still remain tense as you begin to care for the Beard brothers and think about how to get them out of the various sticky situations.

If Burly Men at Sea were a book, it’d be defined as a real page-turner. No scenario lasts too long, and they flow into each other seamlessly. I found myself constantly smiling at the absurd writing and animations. Speaking of books, each unique playthrough is stored in an in-game library that can be referenced to pre-order a fully-illustrated hardcover version of the adventure. That’s neat, even if it’s not for me. I’ll just stick to repeating this ship-worthy adventure, at least a few more times, to see what I see, to unearth something new along the way. If not for me, then for the Beard brothers. They gotta know.

Every day is “Demo Day” in House Flip with Chip and Jo

I never used to watch any of the many home renovation shows that are constantly playing on the television channel HGTV at every hour of the day, but then I met Melanie. She turned me on to a number of these shows, such as Love It or List It–I’m always rooting for David, though he seems to lose more often to Hilary, the queen of staging–Property Brothers, and, more related to today’s post, Fixer Upper. I really like the dynamic between Chip and Joanna Gaines; one is more serious, the other a loving goofball, and they pair off nicely when fixing up less-than-stellar homes and taking care of a swath of kids and farm animals.

Well, on a whim, after uninstalling Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery off my phone, I decided to download a game called…House Flip with Chip and Jo, developed by fun-gi and free for all to enjoy. Obviously, there are timers everywhere, and that means special currency–in this case, hearts and elbow grease–so there’s always the opportunity to spend real money on microtransactions, but the game is pretty good about not putting it directly in your face all the time and providing other ways to acquire hearts simply by playing the game. Gee, what a novel concept. My suggestion though is to save up enough hearts to buy a third construction worker, as it will help you do more actions each time you log in.

House Flip with Chip and Jo is naturally all about flipping houses. Chip and Joanna Gaines need your help to explore the world of renovation and design. You’ll assist them to renovate and decorate with a variety of construction and staging skills, discover new houses and architecture, and learn how to buy low and sell high in the cutthroat realm of real estate. You’ll do this in a number of locations, starting with Waco, TX, and then moving on to Kansas City, MO. There are other cities on the map yet to be unlocked, but it looks like you’ll be doing a bit of globe-trotting, moving from Phoenix to Salt Lake City to Seattle and so on. I mean, eventually, Texas is going to run out of homes to flip.

All you really do in House Flip with Chip and Jo is tap, and that’s fine. Most phone games are all tapping. However, when I start a timer to begin staging a bedroom or painting the walls in the bathroom, it’s nice to know that I can either return whenever I want to complete that mission, unlike in games in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery; those punish you if you don’t came back ASAP. Once you purchase a house and finish fixing up all its problems, as well as staging it just right in various themes, such as Mid-Century Modern or French, you can put it on the market and watch the bids come in. Sometimes you might want to reject an offer if you aren’t making a profit, and you can speed up additional offers by spending hearts. I do wish you could flip more than one home at a time in each location, but I get that that’s not realistically feasible for Chip and Jo to do, even in digital form.

However, I do have one major issue with House Flip with Chip and Jo, and it has to do with the in-game depiction of Chip. Look, I know the man has gone through several looks, but the one below just seems oddly off. Like a wax museum statue or something. Just not quite there. Though fun-gi did nail his blindingly white grin; don’t believe me, then check out this quickly Photoshopped image below that I have prepared for y’all:

I kid, I kid. Honestly, I’m having a good time with House Flip with Chip and Jo, and it’s the perfect game to check in on a few times throughout the day, start a bunch of new timers, and watch progress inch forward. I do wonder if I’ll grow tired of doing the same actions as more cities unlock or if there will be new sets of challenges to pursue. Either way, these houses need flipping, and I am the flipper. Well, timer tapper, really.

Every village needs a name, and Tarrey Town is lovely

I loved playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but hated completing it. Not because that meant the game was over and no longer playable–it’s not at all, in fact, as it weirdly drops you back into Hyrule moments before you take on the final encounter so you can fast-travel away though your save slot now shows you completed the final encounter even though you could, theoretically, do it again; it’s a bit messy–but because I found the final fight to be less-than-impressive. Exploring Hyrule at my leisure and taking on what I wanted to take on, in my own way, is where the game shined the most, and the final boss fight seems to be a linear affair, without many options. Also, after it’s done, there’s a pretty short and underwhelming cutscene, and that’s it.

Ultimately, this post is not about that stuff per se, but I’ve been meaning to say something about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild since doing the completion thing shortly before 2017 came to a close. I mean, after all, it was one of my top ten games last year, coming in at the number three spot. Instead, I want to talk about houses and building a community of like-minded people and mundane tasks like gathering wood for construction purposes and watching things change. I want to examine one of my favorite tasks to chip away at while I hunted down more shrines and Korok seeds even if I ultimately have not played that much more of the game since seeing credits rolled. It’s something I think about maybe more than I do, for fear of not having it around as an on-going quest. Of something perpetually to see grow.

Tarrey Town is a new town in Hyrule–so new, in fact, that it doesn’t exist until you steer an up-and-coming architect named Hudson to its foundation to begin constructing it. First, however, you must save a house in Hateno Village from demolition at the hands of the Bolson Construction Company. After that, the flamboyant and cool soundmaker boss Bolson that the company is named for transfers Hudson to Lake Akkala and suggests that Link goes and pays him a visit sometime. Sure thing, chicken wing. Upon Link’s arrival, he sees Hudson mining away at a chunk of rock, and Hudson requests that Link help him construct the new town. On it, my friend.

So, obviously, if you’ve been around this blog of mine for some time now, you know I love the Suikoden series. Well, Suikoden and Suikoden II, really. I still haven’t gotten too far into Suikoden III, and my memories of Suikoden V are as faint as a lantern in a field of fog. I love the notion of building a base and bringing people to it, watching it change with inhabitants and become more than just brick and mortar. If I recall correctly, there was even a town-building mini-game called Faerie Village in Breath of Fire III that I got deep into…though I don’t remember all expansive it ultimately was. Also, Mass Effect 2 had you bringing back recruits for your team to the Normandy, and that was good fun.

The quests to bring Tarrey Town to life are somewhat simple and repetitive. It all begins with gathering some wood. Next, you need to find a Goron with a name ending in “son” because them’s the rules. After that, it’s back to gathering more bundles of wood, as well as finding a tailor. Then 30 bundles of wood and recruiting a merchant. Yes, it’s that task again, but I enjoyed cutting down trees and thinking about all the people I’ve met in Hyrule that have a name ending in “son.” After 50 bundles of wood–seriously, we’re running out of trees here–you need to find someone to officiate a wedding, which turns into a really cute scene Hudson and his new wife. After the wedding is did and done, Tarrey Town is considered complete, and you get three diamonds for all your hard work, plus a free inn to stay at. The end results don’t turn it into a bustling metropolis, but it’s still a busy town with people living in it, and it feels so good to know that, without Link, without your help, none of this would exist.

Spoiler zone ahead. While doing some research for this post, I discovered that a secret shop opens on one of the building’s rooftops, and you can purchase some good gear there. This gives me the perfect reason to return to Tarrey Town and see how its folks are doing. Yeah, yeah, maybe I’ll do a shrine or two along the way. That’s just how The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild works–you start with one idea, and get distracted by several others. Either way, the world continues to thrive, thanks to you.

Casting Relashio on the ho hum Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery

I’ve been meaning to uninstall Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery for months now. Yes, I have known for quite a while that this is not the kind of digital Harry Potter experience I want, which means they need to reveal whatever that open-world thing is as soon as possible or I must finally play my cheap-o copies of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for the PlayStation 2. Heck, LEGO Harry Potter did a much better job of immersing me in the fantastic and fantastical world of wizards, muggles, and a secretive school for learning magic.

The game is naturally set in Hogwarts, but before the events of J.K. Rowling’s novels, featuring a customized protagonist, who you can see above in this blog post’s prominent screenshot. Yup, that’s me, eating the world’s largest sandwich. Alas, he probably looks like a lot of other players’ avatars because the customizing options are fairly limited or locked behind spending high amounts of your precious gem currency…just to get a different hairstyle. Anyways, your homemade student is a first-year and can attend magic classes, learn spells, battle rivals, and embark on quests. So long as you have the time.

Throughout Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery‘s story, players are able to make choices that affect the game’s narrative. Occasionally, these choices are locked if the player’s statistics are not high enough. As expected, your avatar will be interacting with notable characters from the series, such as Albus Dumbledore, Rubeus Hagrid (aka, the best character ever), Severus Snape, and Minerva McGonagall. The main plot starts with your character meeting Rowan Khanna in Diagon Alley, a young witch or wizard–I think if you pick a male avatar, Rowan will also be male because Melanie’s Rowan was a young woman–who teaches the player all about the wizarding world. Later, a conversation with wandmaker Ollivander reveals that the player character’s brother, Jacob, was expelled from Hogwarts for attempting to open the “Cursed Vaults,” a hidden vault rumored to have existed at the school.

As a free-to-play mobile game, it naturally features a system with tasks costing energy to perform. Look, it’s just a staple of the genre now, so to speak. You have to tap on the screen–really specific characters or objects–to use energy during quests; when you run out, you can either wait for it to recharge over real time or pay gems to add more (don’t ever do this). The player also gains different levels of courage, empathy, and knowledge via the choices they make, and higher levels of a particular attribute allow the player to choose some different dialogue options or change the interactions of other students and staff. You won’t be surprised to learn that I focused mostly on empathy throughout my short, two Ravenclaw years at Hogwarts, because I’m a caring soul.

Here’s the part that I found really frustrating in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. Many of the quests are limited not only by a specific amount of energy, but also time. For example, say you are trying to learn a new spell. Well, you have only an hour to complete the quest, and you end up being a few energy taps short after your first go at it. Obviously, you just need to wait a bit and come back to it, but I don’t like feeling tied to my cell phone all the time, and I’d often only return way later to learn that I had failed the quest and would have to do it all over again to progress.

The game looks quite good, but the writing is disappointingly bland. There are occasional moments of interesting stuff, but the side dialogue during quests is so generic it might as well not even be there. Every now and then you get asked a magic-related question to answer, and the questions are beyond easy, even for someone only faintly aware of the Potterverse. Dueling other students and casting spells is neat, but mostly just involves tapping and relying on a rock, paper, scissors outcome. Honestly, the waiting around for your energy meter to recharge wouldn’t be too bad…if you had more to do in Hogwarts. But everything requires energy. You just jump from space to space, looking for something interesting to engage in, and, shockingly, at a school where a professor can turn into a cat or staircases move on their own, there is nothing special to engage in. What a shame.

Ultimately, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery made me feel like a prisoner of Azkaban, demanding I check in on it sooner than later, and I am deathly afraid of Dementors…so no thank you.

All of Spyro: Year of the Dragon’s eggs are up for grabs

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I completed Spyro the Dragon, at 71%, despite the wonky camera, frustrating platforming, and that final fight against Gnasty Gnorc. Then I took on Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!, collecting a mighty number of gems, talismans, and orbs. After that, I moved on to Spyro: Year of the Dragon, the third installment in the series despite it missing a number in the title, but alas, I’ve still not finished it off and most likely won’t…well, not the PlayStation 1 classic version I have downloaded on my PlayStation 3. Why, you ask? Well, there’s a little thing called Spyro Reignited Trilogy coming out next month–that’s November, y’all–and I’m mega-stoked to revisit the series with hopefully better controls and camera options. Oh, and it looks gorgeous too.

Spyro: Year of the Dragon opens with a celebration in the land of the dragons, where Spyro and his kin are celebrating the titular “Year of the Dragon,”, an event that occurs every twelve years when new dragon eggs are brought to the realm. However, unfortunately, during the celebration, a cloaked rabbit girl named Bianca invades the Dragon Realms with an army of creatures called Rhynocs and steals all of the dragon eggs. She brings them back to the Sorceress, an evil ruler of all the Forgotten Realms, who scatters the eggs throughout several worlds. Spyro, along with his trusty lifelong pals Sparx and Hunter, are sent to recover the dragon eggs.

Well…my save file says that I’m at 64% completion for Spyro: Year of the Dragon. Go me. That more or less equates to 10,110 out of 15,000 gems and 90 out of 148 dragon eggs, according to the in-game Atlas menu. Which, if I can say, is really handy for tallying up all your accomplishments, along with the objectives still to finish off in each distinct world. This is good information to have because you often need a certain number of dragon eggs to move forward to the next area, and most of them are easy enough to collect, except for the ones based on mini-games, like skating or boxing.

The gameplay is, more or less, the same as the it was in the previous two games. In this one, Spyro will explore over 30 worlds, defeat enemies, complete puzzles, participate in mini-games, and collect eggs and the usual colored gems. He doesn’t have any brand-new moves, but the controls are still fine, if a bit iffy when trying to both charge forward and jump; often, I would just send our poor tiny, purple dragon right off a cliff’s edge. The camera remains a constant opponent. That said, it’s still a lot of fun to explore these worlds and find all the hidden-away gems or see a dragon egg in the distance and figure out how to reach it.

Spyro’s quest to recapture the dragon eggs stolen by the Sorceress is aided by a number of furry and fuzzy friends. Such as Bentley the yeti, Sheila the kangaroo, Sergeant Byrd the flying penguin, and Agent 9, a blaster-wielding space monkey. These characters are represented in unique levels to highlight their different powers and abilities, with puzzles only for them. For example, Sergeant Byrd, has large, open levels to match his ability to fly and long-distance attacks. There’s also Sheila, who has much more vertical levels to make use of her double-jump ability, and these sometimes look like a traditional 2D platformer.

Spyro: Year of the Dragon‘s graphics, sound, and charm all work together to create something special. Yes, even some eighteen years later. The character designs, while low on the polygon count, still show off Insomniac’s knack for creating iconic characters that are the step-stones for what’s to come down the road, namely the Ratchet and Clank series. Honestly, I’m excited to revisit all three games next month, and I promise to get all them dragon eggs back from the Sorceress. Why? Well, mostly because they’ll be tied to Achievements. Ha, I can’t quit caring about those digital bursts of dopamine.