Category Archives: RPGs

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Mugen Souls Z

For some reason, I thought Mugen Souls Z was an anime-based fighting game, something like Persona 4 Arena, which meant I could pop into it quickly, play a few matches, uninstall the beast, and write a few words related to the game as per my Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge feature. Alas, I was mistaken as this is a big-as-they-come JRPG, bursting with story, characters, more story, and some turn-based fighting, along with general elements of perverted skeeviness that I’m not down with. It’s not a hentai game, but it isn’t too far off in some aspects. More on that in a bit.

In Mugen Souls, the main protagonist Chou-Chou plans to conquer the universe by subjugating the seven worlds it comprises, as she thinks the planets look pretty. Traveling from world to world with her trusty companion Altis and loyal peon Ryuto, Chou-Chou aims to turn the heroes and demon lords of each world into her personal servants, saving the world from conflict in the process. That’s all fine and good, but none of that matters anymore because I’m playing Mugen Souls Z, which is the sequel to Mugen Souls, released in North America on May 20, 2014, for the PlayStation 3. The protagonist in this one is Syrma, a goddess aiming to stop an awkward ancient threat.

Mechanically and visually, as far as I can tell, Mugen Souls Z looks almost identical to its predecessor, but with some improved presentation bits. It’s got a cutesy look to it, with bright colors and bubbly personalities. You are not bogged down immediately with a hundred and one tutorials, as they are instead spread out over the first few hours, but even still, I found it to be a lot of concepts to juggle in my brain, from hitting crystals on the battlefield to turning enemies into peons and so on. The gameplay is also similar to the original; players will travel from one world to the next, finding spots on the map that will ask them to perform actions, such as handing over a certain item, using a certain fetish/affinity to flip their switch, or fighting a specific amount of monsters. Otherwise, you spend a good amount of time in G-Castle, which is both your flying spaceship that can transform into a big robot and your hub area full of shops and things to interact with.

Battles are somewhat tactical and turn-based. You can move around your party based on a circle, positioning them for maximum damage or even hitting multiple enemies at once. Each arena has a set of crystals, which, when activated, grant boosts or have negative repercussions. These allow for a certain level of cleverness on the player’s part, meaning that you can position yourself in such a way to literally cut damage in half while also boosting your own magic power. It’s a simple concept, but one that I still haven’t really figured out how to trigger. And no, I don’t want to go back and read the 15-page tutorial on it.

Ultimately, here are the things I liked:

  • That part where your G-Castle transforms and battles another large robot in the same style as the one-on-one duels in the Suikoden series, where you need to pay attention to the dialogue to prepare for the incoming attack.
  • The late title card that shows up, along with a music video, at the end of chapter 1.
  • That’s it.

Mugen Souls Z is way too talky for me. I’m not against a lot of dialogue, but much of it here feels unnecessary or repetitive. It took about two hours just to get to actual gameplay. Also, this is a very Japanese RPG, meaning that there’s a strong focus on fetishes, bouncy boobs, upskirt shots, and steamy bath scenes. Heck, the first piece of armor that you’ll unlock is underwear, and you’ll be able to accrue others as you play. I personally don’t know the ages of the main characters, but they look young to me, even as gods, and it’s extremely off-putting. I’m sure there’s an audience for this game, but I’m not part of it. And so it goes, uninstalled, never to know what ultimately happens to Chou-Chou, Syrma, and their friends. Maybe it is better not to know in the end.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

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2019 Game Review Haiku, #28 – Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion

Simple RPG
Based on Adventure Time show
Sail to boredom land

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

Batten down the hatches for Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion

I believe I have seen exactly one episode of Adventure Time, and I wasn’t even paying that close attention to it. Oh well. I understand it is beloved and for both kids and adults, but it is just something I never got deep into. Same goes for similar shows, such as Steven Universe, Regular Show, and Gravity Falls. When it comes to the Cartoon Network, I’m mostly only about that super stylish and cool-as-heck Samurai Jack. Oh, and I’ll still occasionally plop down on the couch and fall into a The Fairly OddParents hole, glory be to the being up above; I’m a big fan of Wanda.

Still, that’s not going to stop me from playing an RPG based on Adventure Time, which brings us to Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion. It’s one of the freebies for Gold users on Xbox One this month, and I love freebies like Princess Bubblegum loves…um, bubblegum. That’s a broad assumption. See? I know nothing about this world and its inhabitants. Honestly, after a good nine to ten hours with the game, I still know very little. Everything just seems odd for odd’s sake, but maybe that’s the whole point. Moving along…

Our main protagonists Finn the Human and Jake the Dog begin Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion by exploring the never-before-seen Ocean of Ooo after their home mysteriously floods overnight. The look of the ocean and map gives off an illusion of vastness, filling you with hope that this is gonna be an epic adventure in the vein of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker or The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, but that is sadly not the case at all. In short, it is more of an overworld map or a hub for smaller levels, and you can only travel to so many spots to dock your boat. The worse part is there is no fast travel system, and it takes a long time to get from one island to another across the nearly barren waters that it just results in a lot of boring boating.

As this is an RPG, combat plays a pivotal role in the gameplay. Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion goes the turn-based route, and it is pretty similar to things like Costume Quest 2, Earthlock: Festival of Magic, and Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. Your party is made up of stereotypical RPG archetypes, such as the tank, support, and DPS characters. The battles are rarely challenging and border on the edge of tedious; unfortunately, there’s no difficulty setting to raise the bar a bit. You can select a basic attack, a special attack, block, use an item, or run away; there’s also an ultimate attack for each character that builds up over time. For general upgrades to your stats and abilities, you’ll collect money–I think it is called dosh here–from chests, destroying in-world items, and winning battles. You then spend the hard-earned coin on whatever you want to upgrade, and I will tell you now to never put a dime into the block ability…because blocking in Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion, like in many other RPGs of this ilk, is basically pointless. Never burn a turn, always deal damage or attempt to.

BMO, which is a living video game console system and not the Bank of Montreal, basically breaks the game, and you get them in your party after a couple of hours. They are a support character that can boost a shared power bar for the party that allows more special moves to be performed, which combined with Jake’s or Finn’s attacks that hit multiple enemies in one turn really puts you on top of every fight. There are bosses, but I never felt afraid of losing to them; instead, it felt more like a fight of attrition and seeing how long I could last, with bosses often healing themselves or summoning fodder minions to fight before damaging them more. I also didn’t unlock every special ability for each character; these are usually given out as rewards for side quests, but I felt fine going forward with what I had and just spent dosh making sure I was dealing the most damage with these abilities as possible.

Honestly, Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion is fairly simple and easy as far as a game goes, and you are given more options than you truly need, especially when it comes to items. My bag is stuffed to the brim with strangely-named items, many of which I collected early on and never even used once by the final boss fight. Unfortunately, the enemies never become too much of a challenge to require throwing down offensive and defensive buffs, and the only items I used and spent money on were ones that healed my party members. Also, the game has some performance issues, hitching often when out on the ocean and passing through a loading screen section. Sometimes sound effects can be heard before a fight even commences. Side quests are finicky, with some needing to be re-triggered for them to get completed.

Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion turned out to be okay at best. If anything, it has perhaps inspired me to seek out an episode or two of the animated show to watch, and here’s hoping it is more exciting than a flooded world, which, by the end, I still never understood the reasoning behind the villain’s motives. I really like BMO and Marceline, based on what I saw here. Anyways, I 100%-ed the game, unlocking all Achievements, and have removed it from my Xbox One. Stay tuned for its arresting haiku.

You don’t build a great castle just all at once, Suikoden III

Getting a castle in both Suikoden and Suikoden II remains some of my favorite gaming moments ever. No, really. There is so much to see in each castle, and, even if it is a bit empty at first, the possibility of filling it up with 108 Stars of Destiny is so exciting, especially once you begin to remember some of the people you saw earlier that could join up with you now. However, getting a castle under your wings in Suikoden III has been a serious letdown, and not just because it took me some 27 hours–many of which were spent grinding out levels–to finally see it.

I’m currently in chapter two of Chris Lightfellow’s campaign and, at the beginning of the chapter, before heading back to Brass Castle, you can explore the surrounding area a bit. This is where Chris sort of stumbles into Budehuc Castle on the world map, which, as far as I can tell, is where your army will call home in Suikoden III. How do I know this? Well, upon visiting it, you can instantly begin recruiting 108 Stars of Destiny; however, in Suikoden and Suikoden II, you often had to clear the castle out of monsters before establishing it as your base. Here, it’s like you just walked into an open house showing and said, “I’ll take it.” No big battle, no hard-earned castle. It was a bit of a shock, to be honest, and exploring the thing with no map is a bit confusing, but I’m sure I’ll learn its layout soon enough.

Here’s some history about Budehuc Castle, in case you were curious. Basically, it’s an old, dilapidated castle that sits on the borders of Zexen and the Grasslands. It was an important meeting place for Zexen and the Grasslands back when they used to be on more friendly terms. Since then, it has become a traditional custom for rich nobles to send their second-born sons to become masters there, such as Thomas, who was appointed as the new castle master by his father, Councilor Lowma. However, Thomas discovers that the castle has fallen on hard times and is in danger of becoming obsolete. To keep it from going bankrupt, Thomas leases out parts of the castle’s land to merchants and eventually encounters Hugo, Chris, and Geddoe, who fill up the castle with Stars of Destiny.

Funnily enough, the first person I recruited as part of the 108 Stars of Destiny was…Jeane. For those that don’t know her, she’s been in every single entry in the Suikoden series, despite them taking place centuries apart. Guess she’s just immortal, but that could make sense since she often has the job of selling and attaching magical runes to your party members. She also wields a Charm rune herself, so you never know what is ultimately going on. Either way, the three main protagonists still haven’t truly connected with each other to join up against a larger evil, so I find it odd that all three of them can send new recruits home to Budehuc Castle despite not even talking this process through with each other.

Whatever. Clearly, Suikoden III is a different beast than the previous two games, what with it going all 3D with the graphics and switching up how combat works; I was just hoping for a bit of familiarity here, and it sounds like I won’t truly get it, with the castle only upgrading itself once you get more shops and shopkeepers to stay there. At this point, I’d rather call one of the larger towns, such as Vinay del Zexay or Caleria, home. Just give me a small inn to update, that’s more than fine.

Create your own Dark Cloud geographical landscapes

Back in April 2017, I was tabling at Camden Comic Con, selling my comic wares and keeping an eye out for any videogame-related cosplayers. Alas, didn’t see a single one, but there were several for Stranger Things and Sailor Moon, go figure. That said, a few tables away from me was a business whose name I no longer recall selling retro videogames, and by retro, yes, sadly, I mean PlayStation 2, PlayStation 1, and similar ilk of that time period. Wow. Man, I remember when retro meant Atari; hashtag I’m so old. However, in better news, I was able to reacquire a copy of Dark Cloud for a few bucks, one of the first games I originally got with my PlayStation 2, but ultimately ended up trading in for something else, an action I greatly regret to this day.

One of the PlayStation 2’s first big RPGs, Dark Cloud is a title that challenges players to not only battle enemies and solve puzzles, but also to create geographical landscapes using the Georama system, which limits a certain number of houses and items being placed in the world, as well as NPCs only being allowed in specific spots. The game was the first full-scale production by Level-5, a developer who would quickly go on to make some of my favorite titles down the road, such as Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, Rogue Galaxy, and Professor Layton’s London Life from Professor Layton and the Last Specter, among several others. Here, I’ll name two more, just becauseFantasy Life and Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.

Well, in Dark Cloud, you play as Toran, a young boy on an unforgettable journey of rebirth, revival, and hope. Not my words exactly; also, the early marketing for this game claimed this was a “Zelda killer,” which it definitely was not. The game begins as Colonel Flag Gilgister of the Lagoon Empire Army of the East attempts to awaken the Dark Genie, a legendary evil creature, whom Gilgister wishes to use to control the world. Upon summoning the genie, Gilgister orders him to attack the West. However, prior to the attack, Simba, the Fairy King, casts a protective spell around the land, sealing buildings, objects, and people inside magical orbs called Atla. Toran must harness the spirit of those destroyed to rebuild the lands in time for an epic confrontation. You’ll recreate demolished villages by re-building houses, hills, churches, volcanoes, and streams, populating these places with people, and you’ll even be able to control the weather. Ooh ahh.

All in all, Dark Cloud is an action role-playing game played from a third-person perspective, in which the player moves through procedurally-generated dungeons, battling monsters, collecting items, and doing their best to manage a bunch of different meters. This may have been my actual first taste of randomized levels; sorry, Rogue. In these dungeon levels, the player may have the option of entering a separate “back door” area that contains stronger monsters and rarer treasure. Most of the combat involves real time hacking and slashing, along with a lot of stepping to the side, but the player will occasionally “duel” a boss-like enemy, which boils down to a quick time event (QTE); alas, these aren’t all that exciting, but this was the beginning of the era for QTEs.

Here’s one of the two things I greatly dislike about Dark Cloud–while in dungeons, you have both a health meter and a thirst meter. The thirst meter gradually decreases over time, and, when fully depleted, it causes the health meter to begin to decrease. That sucks. To prevent the thirst meter from depleting, Toran must drink water from his inventory or use a small pool found in some dungeon levels. It’s not the most fun thing to keep on top of, forcing you to move through dungeons as quick as possible, almost frantically, which leads me to great dislike number two in the next paragraph…because it deserves its very own paragraph.

Weapons have durability and will, without constant care, degrade and eventually break completely, disappearing from your inventory. How sad and cruel. You can upgrade weapons after they gain a specific amount of experience, infusing them with extra abilities and bonuses, and all of that can be lost if you aren’t careful and continue swinging away at monsters while your weapon teeters on the edge of breaking. Early on, this is a major problem, because you only have access to a couple of weapons, and the mayor will give you one free weapon repair powder each time you talk to him, but only if you don’t have any in your inventory; I have not gotten to the point where I can unlock a shop yet. So my dungeon crawling has gone a lot like this–enter dungeon, fight monsters until weapon almost breaks, repair once, fight monsters until weapon almost breaks, stop fighting monsters, hopefully find key to get to next floor, run around frantically, leave, go back to town, and stock up on items from the mayor. It’s fine, but not very thrilling, and I’m hoping that the weapon upgrade system becomes something I can really dig into, like in Rogue Galaxy.

Still, I love the Georama system very much in Dark Cloud, which should surprise no one. I mean, my favorite part of the Suikoden series is watching my castle fill up with people and seeing where everyone goes and what they can offer me. This sort of hits the same vibe, with some slight differences. After you acquire enough orbs, you can begin placing houses, trees, and ponds wherever you like (so long as it all fits nicely); for houses, you then have to fill in specific slots with items, such as beds, barrels, benches, and who lives there. I just got a llama for Toran’s home…well, barn area. It’s fun to find the right item to slot in and complete a full structure and then go out and meet your new neighbor.

I’ve never got too far in my original copy of Dark Cloud before trading it in, certainly not far enough to unlock fishing or other people to play as, which I know is in the game thanks to reading its manual. I’m hoping to make a bigger dent now and am excited to watch Norune Village grow at my discretion. Stay tuned for further updates down the road. If I build a road, that is.

Final Fantasy VIII has always been great, weird, and underappreciated

Final Fantasy VIII was released on the original PlayStation 1 on…February 11, 1999, meaning it is now twenty years old, almost ready to booze it up, give or take a day or two depending on when I get this post uploaded. Either way–congrats and that’s totally insane to me, but I guess time has always had a way of sneaking up on ourselves. What else came out in February 1999, you ask? Allow me to do some quick research. A few choice answers include Street Sk8er, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Beetle Adventure Racing, and Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance, all of which scream instant classic from the mountaintop. This was definitely the cream of the crop at said time.

Before I get into the meat and potatoes of Final Fantasy VIII, allow me to tell a story. I never finished the game, but I got real freaking close; see, towards the end, as you prepare to take on Ultimecia, you need to split into multiple parties and I had unfortunately focused on leveling up only three characters for most of the game, not knowing I’d be thrown this curveball. Specifically, Squall Leonhart, Selphie Tilmitt, and Quistis Trepe. So, the other team was certifiably boned, and I couldn’t survive a single fight nor reload to a previous save to grind them up to somewhat more respectable levels. Oh well. Also, afterwards, I was letting a then-friend of mine borrow the game to play, giving him it disc by disc; well, he moved away with Final Fantasy VIII‘s second disc so there’s no way I can replay my original PS1 copy, though it has been released on Steam and as a digital download on the PlayStation 3. Not all hope is lost, if I ever feel the need to dive in again.

All right, on to the plot. If I can summarize it well enough, that is. Final Fantasy VIII is set on an unnamed fantasy world and follows a group of young mercenaries, led by Squall Leonhart, as they are drawn into a conflict sparked by Ultimecia, a sorceress from the future who wishes to compress time. During their quest to defeat Ultimecia, Squall struggles with his role as a leader and develops a romance with one of his comrades, Rinoa Heartilly. Squall is a cadet at SeeD–which I never knew how to pronounce; is it seed or seedy?–a special combat unit of the Balamb Garden Military Academy. The game is a strange mix of high school drama and battling real-life monsters, with a punch of romance and time bending and long pauses. It’s weird, but that never meant it wasn’t interesting and a fresh breath of air after the somewhat traditional-looking Final Fantasy VII.

Now, I remember being initially disappointed with the Draw system. See, in Final Fantasy VIII, magic spells aren’t purchased in shops like in previous games. Instead, the most common way to get spells into your arsenal is by drawing it directly out of enemies. This cost your character a turn, and I hate wasting turns, which is why I’d always prefer to cast an aggressive spell, such as Firaga, instead of a buff spell, like Protect. Also, you could gain magic spells via draw points or by refining magic from items. Still, it felt like an unneeded step in the process; to cast Cure, you first have to draw it from an enemy and then wait your next turn to use it. It’s probably not as big of a deal as I remember it being, but I know many players wanted something a little more straightforward from the battle system.

Perhaps the greatest thing to come from Final Fantasy VIII is its mini-game Triple Triad. This is a digital card game conceived by battle system designer Hiroyuki Ito. In it, two players face off against one another, one side playing as “blue” and the other as “red” on a 3×3 grid. Each player has five cards in their hand, and the aim is to capture your opponent’s cards by turning them into the player’s own color of red or blue. Cards have different levels, with low level cards having low ranks, like 1s, 2s, and 3s, while high level cards have 8s, 9s, and 10s, and some cards are considered “rare,” usually obtained from tough opponents or side quests. I loved playing this minigame so much that I eventually began to draw my own cards and play against invisible opponents just to practice in between grinding sessions. It’s also in Final Fantasy IX.

There’s probably a lot more I could say about the game…if I could remember more. Alas, it’s a wash, having last played the thing in high school. Still, I’ll put this forward. If you think Final Fantasy VIII is the worst entry in the series, I have two things to say to you: 1) you’re wrong, and 2) whatever.

Returning to The Legend of Legacy for map fulfillment

the legend of legacy tips and tricks gd

I procured a copy of The Legend of Legacy, which is not the most memorable of names when it comes to RPGs and part of me wants to keep writing it as Legend of Legaia, some time back in late 2015. I played for a few hours, but magically lost interest fast, which is a shame because, after returning to it recently for reasons that will be explained later, it’s a pretty good, if ultimately quirky, role-playing adventure with lots to do. Plus, it just oozes style, and I love things that are both stylish and oozy, such as EarthBound, the Suikoden series, and Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime.

Okay, here are some quick facts. The Legend of Legacy is a Japanese RPG for the Nintendo 3DS, developed by Cattle Call with assistance from Grezzo and FuRyu. The game was published in Japan by FuRyu in 2015 and later localized and published in North America by Atlus USA in 2015. The story takes place on the island of Avalon, where a bunch of adventurers meet up to explore the island’s mysteries. Gameplay focuses on exploring Avalon, fighting enemies via turn-based battles, increasing their abilities based on usage, and filling out maps. From a glance, the game seems inspired by things like SaGa Frontier and Final Fantasy IV. For some reason, I figured I never got around to writing about The Legend of Legacy, but evidently I already did so.

Story-wise, I’m not going to get into it. I didn’t really understand what was happening several years ago, and I know even less now. Sure, I could look up a detailed summary online, but that doesn’t interest me. This is a game of many pronouns, such as Elementals and Singing Shards, and magical gizmos to go after, and that’s all I really need to know. I’m more interested in seeing my team grow in strength, HP, and powers. The Legend of Legacy, in grand SaGa fashion, gives you a brief overview of what to expect and then tosses you to the wolves to figure the rest out yourself, and I mostly care about filling in maps and selling them for a high price. It’s quite satisfying.

There are seven lead protagonists to select from in The Legend of Legacy. There’s Meurs who can speak with Elementals, Bianca who has amnesia, the treasure hunter Liber, Garnet who firmly believes in her religion, the mercenary Owen, Eloise who is an alchemist in search of eternal youth, and Filmia, a frog prince that is in no way related to Chrono Trigger‘s frog Glenn. Ultimately, you can recruit the other six to you party along the way, but the story will focus on whoever you  ultimately chose. For what it is worth, I went with Meurs, who comes across as the classic sort of JRPG hero, and have been using Bianca and Garnet at his sides. They all use a bunch of swords and knives as their main weapons, but I am trying to branch out into other styles, in hopes of unlocking many more abilities and powers. When it comes to turn-based battling, the more options you have, the better.

So, why am I returning to The Legend of Legacy some three-ish years later? It’s because I recently got a copy of The Alliance Alive, which evidently is sort of a sequel to this game. Or, at the very least, carries over many of the core concepts. Also, the scenario was written by Yoshitaka Murayama, noted for his work on the Suikoden series–be still my heart. Yet, before I take on another large-as-heck RPG, despite juggling a bunch already at the moment, I thought I should at least go back to The Legend of Legacy and see if it could hook me for a bit more. It very well might, we’ll see.