Tag Archives: Dragon Quest VIII

Grinding Down’s Top 10 Games of 2017

For the last several years, I’ve named my top five favorite games at the end of each year. Look, I know you don’t believe me, because how absurd of a claim that is, which is why I brought receipts:

However, 2017 has been crazy good in terms of games–I mean, I ended up completing a whopping 125+ of them as of this post though not all released this calendar year–and there’s far too many to talk about to fill my standard top five format, so I’m expanding this yearly endeavor to ten. I know, how very controversial. But this means more words for your eyeballs to eat, so I think we’re all winners here.

Let’s start with a couple games that didn’t quite make the list. Namely, Marvel Heroes Omega and Fallout Shelter.

For the former, well…I enjoyed my time with the free-to-play, loot-driven action RPG from Gazillion Entertainment, playing as Squirrel Girl and watching the framerate tank when enough other players entered the fold and starting using their special abilities all at once. The problem? Other than Squirrel Girl not featuring enough into the main campaign, the game was quickly abandoned on consoles, shutting down unceremoniously around Thanksgiving. This was only a few months after releasing on consoles, so big boo to that. I’m glad I never dumped any real money into it, but also bummed that the game is just gone, never to be played ever again. Thank goodness I have copies of X-Men Legends and Marvel Ultimate Alliance still to try down the road.

As for Fallout Shelter, a game that dropped in June 2015 during E3 for everyone with cool phones (not me), but only made it onto Xbox One this year…well, I’ve sunk a lot of hours into it. Currently, something like a bajillion (rough estimate). Anyways, it’s my go-to for killing ten minutes or so every day, with Bethesda continuing to support it with holiday-themed quests and rewards since launching on consoles. I only have a few more Achievements to pop, and I suspect I’ll probably be playing it a whole bunch more into 2018, eventually running out of room in Vault 713.

Also, I’ll quickly touch on this, but yes, I did play some PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds this year, even getting a chicken dinner on my fourth game, but since it is still in early access/game preview mode for the Xbox One, my home of choice, I don’t consider it in the running for this year’s top 10 list. It is good fun, both solo and in squad format, but has a long way to go in terms of performance and stability and not constantly kicking me out to the dashboard for seemingly no reason, which is beyond frustrating when you are, at the time, driving a vehicle quickly out of the blue circle.

Right. Well, with that said, let’s see what my ten favorite games of 2017 were…

10. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King

Honestly, I’ve not put a ton of time into Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. Actually, that’s a complete lie; on the PlayStation 2, this was the game that bridged the gap of me moving out of my parents’ house post graduating college and getting my first studio apartment, wherein I didn’t have cable or Internet installed for a couple months, relying on my PlayStation 2 and books to keep me entertained at night and on the weekends, and I put about 80-ish into that version, without ever actually completing it. Hmm.

In 2017, Square Enix remade it for the Nintendo 3DS, with some controversial changes, such as to the UI and orchestral score, but also added some fun, smart additions, like new monsters, seeing enemies in the field, and updates to the plot. Also, there are two new playable characters, Red and Morrie, though
I don’t know how far into the adventure they show up. Personally, I’m kind of saving this game for a lull when I can slip back into something familiar and chip away at it. I also really like the inclusion of the photography challenge side quest.

9. Cayne

Cayne is a killer point-and-click adventure game. By that I mean a lot of characters get killed in it. This free, somewhat standalone isometric horror game from The Brotherhood is set in the Stasis universe and puts you into the waddling body of Hadley, who is nine months pregnant. She wakes up in a strange facility where something is desperately trying to steal her child, and it’s up to you to both learn more and escape. I really liked the tone of this, as well as some of the non-traditional changes to the genre’s mechanics, like not having you click “look” on items to get a description of them. The world-building is dark and deep and reminded me of something that lurked in the back of Harlan Ellison’s mind for too long. At some point, I’ll need to check out Stasis, but I’m emotionally not ready yet.

8. LEGO Worlds

I struggled with some of the UI and button commands in LEGO Worlds and will never, ever try to build anything LEGO brick by LEGO brick because that road only leads to madness and mental destruction, but otherwise it was a lot of fun to run around in and have some silly adventures. There’s less structure than your typical LEGO videogame, which is odd at first. However, the randomized worlds are goofy yet always interesting, especially the candy-themed one, and once you realize there is more beneath the surface, exploration in the deep dark becomes an entirely new mechanic to figure out. It’s not a perfect take on Minecraft, and that’s fine–these worlds belong to LEGO.

7. Samorost 3

The Samorost series has always been a game of sights and sounds. You piece together a narrative by what you see and hear, and Samorost 3 continues this trend, with our little gnome friend out exploring a bunch of different planets. Also, there’s no text to read whatsoever, not even in the menus. To be perfectly honest, I’m not done with Samorost 3, only putting a couple hours into it so far, but I’m purposefully moving through it slowly, absorbing and digesting every single scene and flower/bug you can click on. I love how much moss there is, and the puzzles are a delight to figure out, even the ones you do to reveal a hint require you to put on your thinkin’ cap. I do hope there’s a Samorost 4 (and 5 and 6 and 7) down the road, and I hope to finish this strange and beautiful journey up before any of them come out, but I’m not going to rush through it.

6. Prey

I’m not very good at Prey, but that’s okay. The game clearly wears its immersive sim inspiration proudly on its sleeves with numerous ways to approach objectives and a creepy sci-fi retro future that without any doubt has some moral implications. I’m close to the end of Prey, but I don’t know if I can make it through based on how I created my character and spent my skill points. I love the world in Prey, despite how terrifyingly fecked up it is, and I’m looking forward to re-playing the game on the easiest of difficulties so I can just focus on reading emails, books, letters, and listening to audio diaries aboard Talos 1 so I can know exactly how everyone on this doomed space station lived. Also, don’t bother trying to kill the Nightmare creature, because you are wasting ammo as it just keeps coming back.

5. Night in the Woods

I recently tried to describe Night in the Woods to Mel after buying it a second time, now on Xbox One, since I lost all my progress for the PC when my ASUS laptop bought the farm, and I think I said something like this: you are a cat named Mae and you walk around this town and talk to people and Selmers does poetry and your mom is funny and you can look at constellations and the writing is really great, like super funny and also dark as heck. All of that is true, but Night in the Woods is also so much more. It’s the story of loner and college-dropout Mae returning home in Possum Springs to find that life has gone on without her. Now she needs to figure out her place, among her family and friends, while also dealing with a mystery involving a severed arm and stolen teenager. I’m obsessive with seeing every inch of content, exploring every nook and talking to all who will talk to me, exhausting dialogue trees fully, though I mostly stuck with hanging out with Bae at night (sorry, Gregg). Lastly, the soundtrack is phenomenal.

4. Ever Oasis

Ever Oasis does not do anything too surprising, but that’s not what I was looking for in a handheld action RPG about building up a magical oasis and managing a bunch of stores. The combat was basically this: dodge to the side, attack with all you had, rinse and repeat. At times, it got mashy and boring, and I didn’t put too much attention into upgrading weapons and gears because it didn’t seem to matter all that much (spoiler: I was right). The part I enjoyed the most was getting new people to join your oasis and open up shop and then taking on specific quests to upgrade those shops so you can make more income. There’s a good loop here, one that I ate up every day for a couple months during my lunch break, and I thought I was going to stick with it more for post-credits content, but that didn’t happen due to the number one item on this list. Still, a fun time.

3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I missed out on many of the big Legend of Zelda games post-A Link to the Past. Shocking, I know. Well, I never had a Nintendo 64 or GameCube or even a Wii. Yes, that means I never played Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword. Phew. So, honestly, dropping into Breath of the Wild was pure delight. The game presents a sprawling, open land to explore pretty much however you want once you gain access to a few powers and your hang-glider. You can take on the Divine Beasts one by one or go directly for the jugular and defeat Ganon from the very start. I did the former, only taking on end-game Ganon the other night after many hours and shrines and gaining access to the Master Sword, failing to defeat his first form. I think I need to upgrade my health a bit more and cook better food first.

Regardless of that, I’ve had a fantastic time running around with Link sans horse, taking on side quests, finding Korok seeds, breathing in the cold, mountain air, and seeing whatever is just around the corner or over that hill. Because there’s always something. There’s a richness here that I’ve never seen before, and the fact that many of the puzzles can be solved in numerous ways gets me all tingly inside. The game rewards the player greatly for poking around, and I like to poke. That said, I hate engaging in combat unless safely from a distance using a strong bow and bomb arrow, and I will never, ever be a fan of weapons breaking–you hear that, Dark Cloud–but that’s just a part of this world one needs to deal with in order to survive.

2. Slime Rancher

I truly hope that 2018 doesn’t result in us building an economy from the ground up based on farming plorts–also known as slime poop–from a number of different slime beings. Because if that’s the case, I’m in serious trouble. I got lost in Slime Rancher, constantly feeling the pull to play for five more minutes, to feed a few more slimes and sell a handful more of plorts so I could buy the next upgrade for my farm. Every upgrade lets you explore further and last a little longer out in the wild, and exploring is a big part of the fun here, with excitement coming from discovering new slimes and thinking about how you can harvest their plorts for your benefit. Since launching on Xbox One as a Games with Gold freebie, the developer Monomi Park has been updating the game a whole bunch, adding new features and areas to scour, and I continue to dip back into it to make sure all my slimes are getting on well with each other and buy new colors for my base and plort-vacuum.

Last year, Stardew Valley, a farming game, took my number two spot, and this year it is Slime Rancher. I have to wonder if this trend will continue in 2018, with my eyes locked in curiosity on things like Mineko’s Night Market, Staxel, and Ooblets.

1. Miitopia

Look, I’m just as surprised as you are. I honestly thought, based on the game’s somewhat hands-off combat system, that I was going to hate Miitopia, but just the opposite happened. I fell for it hard, unable to not spend any free ten or fifteen minutes doing a quest or grinding forward to have my party grow in strength or eat some more food or become closer to one another. This continued long after I beat the story, wherein the game sort of split into two entities, and now, 60 hours in, I’m still banging my head against the two extra islands of Galados Isle and New Lumos, the daily quests from visitors at the Travelers’ Hub, and the Tower of Dread, which is the game’s spin of a boss rush mode. Evidently, after beating the Tower of Dread, you get a new class, and the completionist in me must see all the armor and weapon options for it, so my final hours with Miitopia are not immediately around the corner.

I spoke about loop earlier with Ever Oasis, and Miitopia is a strong contender for best “pick and up play for five minutes” type of gameplay. Ultimately, no matter what you do in that five minutes, you are moving forward or making your team stronger. The fact that you can hold down a button and fast-forward the action really speeds up the grinding, which I found enjoyable and allowed me to get creative with my team and action choices when the fights become too easy, helps a lot. Some sessions saw me doing nothing but playing around with the minigame tickets system, taking advantage of the roulette wheel to get better gear or sell it for gold or obtain rare food for just spinning a wheel.

The story is straightforward and nothing to go ga-ga over. No argument here on that. What makes it special and more engaging is the cast of characters, who you hand-pick. Either from your pre-made Miis or from ones that Nintendo suggests. I even looked up a few online and scanned QR codes. Who knew Morgan Freeman (as a cleric) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (as a warrior) were such best buds? Same goes for Snoop Dogg (as a vampire) and my sister Bitsy (a pop star). My girlfriend Melanie (as a chef) was a key fighter, using her frying pan to whack enemies to death or turn them into food, and the quirks on each party member created jealousy and random moments in battle, like someone feeling empathy towards an enemy and letting them go. If I was to play Miitopia again from the start–and I won’t–selecting an entirely different team of Miis and classes would absolutely make it feel like a different game despite the paths being the same.

Also, next to Night in the Woods and certain sound effects from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Miitopia‘s music is some of my favorite from 2017. The title screen song changes depending on where you save your game, and each area has its own twist to the main theme. There are dozens of great little jingles, from when two Miis grow closer to leveling up to obtaining and equipping a new weapon. If you don’t believe me and want to hear ’em for yourself, here’s a couple of tracks that exemplify how eccentric yet adorable Miitopia is to listen to:

2017: what a year (for games).

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Dragon Quest VIII’s photography sidequest is pretty goo

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I’m not fooling when I say that it beyond insane that, in 2017, I am playing Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King…on my Nintendo 3DS. Like, we’ve always known that Nintendo’s portable game console could run games from the PlayStation 2 era, such as Tales of the Abyss and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, but I never thought we’d get something as great and massive as Level-5’s magnificent showpiece. In my opinion, Dragon Quest VIII was a shining, blinding star in the JRPG night sky from 2004-2005, and the handheld version is mostly on par with that definitive claim, with some additions that I like and subtractions I dislike.

You’ll surely remember that I tried to go back to my Dragon Quest VIII PS2 save some years back. My return to the kingdom of Trodain didn’t last long. I had already put in over 80 hours because, at the time that I got the game, in my first studio apartment in Clifton, NJ, I declined getting Internet/TV services for a few months to save money. Thus, I was left with entertaining myself in the evenings, and that ended up being a lot of reading, some drawing, and, well, Dragon Questing. It was hard going back and remembering where I left off and what to do next. I certainly never beat the game, but couldn’t find the main path again to focus on, instead spending a few hours in the casino or chasing after monsters to capture for the fighting arena. I’m hoping to make a more direct run to the credits in the 3DS version and save some of the bonus side stuff for later, if possible.

A plot reminder, because these games have plots, even if they are somewhat convoluted: the game begins with Dhoulmagus, the court jester of the kingdom of Trodain, stealing an ancient scepter. He then casts a spell on Trodain castle, which turns King Trode into a tiny troll-like thing and Princess Medea into a horse. Unfortunately, everyone else in the castle becomes plants. That is, except you. Yup, the nameless, voiceless Trodain guard–lucky devil. Together, the three of you set out on a quest to find Dhoulmagus and reverse his spell. Along the way, you join up with some colorful characters: Yangus, a bandit who owes his life to the protagonist (I named him Pauly this time instead of Taurust_), Jessica, a scantily clad mage looking to avenge her murdered brother, and Angelo, a Templar Knight that likes to flirt and gamble.

Let’s just get to it and talk about the differences in the 3DS version of Dragon Quest VIII, as there are several. All right, in we go.

Evidently, you get two new playable characters–Red the bandit queen and Morrie, the owner and operator of the monster battling arena–but I’ve read you don’t gain access to them until late in the game, both entering your party at level 35. Not sure how I feel about that, as there’s a comfort and familiarity to the initial team of four, especially after you figure out how each character works best and spec them in that way (Angelo = healing, Yangus = tank, etc.). Being able to see monsters on the world map and avoid them at your discretion is great and something I look for in nearly every new RPG. The alchemy pot–always a staple in Level-5 joints–is no longer on an unseen timer and simply creates what you want when you want it, as well as provides suggestions for items you can mix with one another. Lastly, at least for small changes, as you gain skill points and upgrade your party members, you can now see when each one will unlock a new ability or buff; before, it was all guesswork unless you had a walkthrough guide at your side.

Cameron Obscura’s photography challenge is one of the larger additions and is quite enjoyable. You encounter this man fairly early in the game, at Port Prospect. He requests that you take some specific photos, each one earning you a different number of stamps. As you complete stamp boards, you earn special items. Simple enough…yet extremely addicting. Some photo requests require you to capture an enemy in the wild doing something silly or find a hidden golden slime statue in town. They vary in difficulty. Taking a picture is as easy as pressing start to enter photo mode; from there, you can zoom in, add or take away party members, and switch the main hero’s pose. Looks like there are over 140 challenges to complete, but you are limited to only 100 photos in your album, which means deleting some later down the road–not a huge inconvenience, but seems unnecessary. However, I wish getting to Cameron’s Codex–this is where you find the list of potential challenges that updates as you progress in the story–wasn’t hidden away in the “Misc” option menu; I’d have liked it to be in the drop-down menu on the touchscreen, where you can quickly access other constantly used things like “Zoom” and “Alchemy”.

Okay, now on to the issues I’m not a fan of. None of these are deal-breakers as Dragon Quest VIII remains a strong classic JRPG that does stray from its successful mold of yore, but I’m still bummed.

First, there’s the soundtrack or lack thereof–the original orchestrated soundtrack was removed for the 3DS version. What’s there is fine, but no longer as sweeping. The game’s cel-shaded cartoon visuals still look pretty good, but there’s a lot of draw-in when wandering around, which can make it look like nothing is at the end of some monster-ridden hallway, but there’s actually a red treasure chest there and the only way you’d know that is to walk closer towards it. Speaking of visuals, the menus, once full of icons, tabs, and visual indicators, and looking like this, have been replaced with perfunctory text that, yes, still gets the job done, but loses a lot of personality. The in-game camera continues to be an issue, especially in tight spots, and I have to use the shoulder buttons to swing it around for a better view as I, like many, prefer seeing where I’m going.

Lastly, there’s Jessica, who uses her sexuality to charm monsters into not attacking. I remember being weirded out by this some twelve years back, and it hasn’t gotten better with age. Initially, she’s dressed quite conservatively, but the minute she joins your party her attire changes to be extremely less so, and there’s even some needless boob bouncing. Sorry, Akira Toriyama, but it’s gross. I’m currently trying to specialize her in the opposite direction so as to never see the puff-puff spell in action. Maybe Red will replace her, but who knows.

All right, that’s enough Dragon Quest VIII talk for now. Evidently I can really go on about this game, as well as Dragon Quest IX. I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I see both the later game content and stuff that pops up after credits roll. Until next slime, everyone.

Ten mimic treasure chests I passionately hate

gd mimic treasure chests post

Treasure chests are difficult to resist. They come in all shapes and sizes, more times than not offering the potential for greatness–gold, armor, weapons, whatever. Most people don’t leave behind rotten vegetables in their fancy treasure boxes, and so you are more or less guaranteed to walk away a richer player. Unless that treasure chest is actually a mimic in disguise, and then you’re thrown for a loop, battling with what once held your dreams of a new item or chunk of change to make a down payment on that fancy, street-side abode back in the hub city.

I passionately hate mimics.

Real quick, some history. Mimics took shape back in the good ol’ days of pen and paper roleplaying, which I enjoy from time to time, but I’m more visual despite having a decent enough imagination, preferring Talisman or Descent. Mimics are a type of fictional monster, initially birthed in Dungeons & Dragons. They are portrayed as being able to change their shape to disguise themselves as an inanimate objects, most commonly as treasure chests. Mimics also have a powerful adhesive that holds fast to whatever touches them, allowing the mimic to beat the creature with its powerful pseudopods. That latter characteristic did not seem to follow over with mimics as they transitioned into videogame enemy fodder.

Over my years of gaming, I’ve crossed paths with a number of mimics, all of which I passionately hate. This is a list of some. Forward, with the disgust!

Mimic-ffix

Here is a mimic treasure chest from Final Fantasy IX that I passionately hate.

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Here is a mimic treasure chest from Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, called a cannibox and originally introduced in Dragon Quest III, that I passionately hate.

rogue galaxy mimic chest capture

Here is a mimic treasure chest from Rogue Galaxy that I passionately hate. Look at that nasty blue tongue.

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Here are mimic treasure chests from Rogue Legacy that I passionately hate.

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Here is a mimic treasure chest from Chrono Cross that wants to punch me. I passionately hate it.

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Here is a mimic treasure chest from Wild Arms 3 that I passionately hate.

dark cloud king mimic

Here is a mimic treasure chest from Dark Cloud that I passionately hate.

mimic legend of grimrock 2

Here is a mimic treasure chest with a lot of teeth from Legend of Grimrock 2 that I passionately hate.

Mimic Borderlands 2

Here is a level 60 killer mimic treasure chest from Borderlands 2 that I passionately hate. Shoot it in the glowing green part.

suikoden 1 mimic chest slot man

Lastly, here is a mimic treasure chest from the original Suikoden, affectionately called a slot man, that I passionately hate.

Have I missed any key mimics from some of your favorite roleplaying games? If so, let me know in the comments below. During my search, I came across a few screenshots of mimics in the Dark Souls series, which I’ve not yet played and am now feeling less inclined to deal with, but maybe they aren’t too tough to battle. Ha, that’s a joke. From what I understand, they are brutal.

Some JRPGs demand you grind from the get-go

grinding early in RPGs GD

I finally got around to trying out that free and standalone-like 3DS demo for Bravely Default: Flying Fairy last night, but this post is not going to be explicably about that game. I need more time with it to both figure out my thoughts and overall opinions, as well as to decide on whether or not I’ll pick up the full retail copy, which drops today. I suspect I will, whether I love or loathe the demo to pieces, because these kind of strange JRPGs are far and few between, and my thinking is that by supporting it with a purchase, I’m helping to make strides towards a North American release for Fantasy Life. Wishful thinking, sure…but it’s better than doing nothing.

But Bravely Default got me thinking about the various RPGs and JRPGs that really make you grind for levels and money from the very start, because, at least in the demo, it downright demands you do it. The very first fight outside of town resulted in one character in my party of four dead, two badly hurt and poisoned, and the remaining member okay at half of his HP. I’m on the default–pun intended–level of difficulty, and I’m pretty good at turn-based combat, but I don’t think I have the whole brave and default techniques down just yet. That said…yowzas. The combat is brutally tough, and so for my first hour and change with the demo, I’ve just been going back and forth to the inn to heal up, fight monsters in the desert, and rinse and repeat until my eyelids grow too heavy to keep playing. It’s honestly not terrible, as I’m used to grinding, but I always find it strange when a game makes it impossible to progress without it at the very beginning of the journey. Let me list a few other examples.

One of my fondest gaming memories, just in general, always comes back to Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. See, when I moved out of my parents’ house and up to northern New Jersey for my newly acquired post-college job, I lived off the grid for several months, relying on previously purchased videogames and DVDs for nightly entertainment while I held off on getting cable and Internet. DQVIII filled that space greatly, but it’s a slow game, and you do have to grind for a little bit in the very beginning at the Waterfall Cave section, otherwise the final boss of that area can wipe your party out quite quickly. If I recall, there’s a small section of healing water you can keep drinking from to restore your team’s health, making this place perfect for grinding, and, at the time, it certainly seemed necessary.

Dragon Fantasy (Book 1) is made up of three different storylines and a strange one-off inspired by all things Minecraft. Ignoring the latter and focusing on the former, of the three separate but connected plots, one storyline, by its very design, requires you to grind a whole bunch before you can even get to the first dungeon and safely explore it at a decent clip. In Ogden’s storyline, he is an old, washed-up man out to make a name for himself again, but that means fighting all the battles by himself, which is slower and more grindy than the other two campaigns. It meant fighting battles until Ogden was nearly out of health, run to the nearest inn, spend some gold to heal, and go back out to do it all over again. Not the most exciting time, but I ended up playing a lot of Dragon Fantasy (Book 1) while watching Netflix or Giant Bomb videos.

The first hour or so of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is both magical and devastating, and not just because something terrible happens to Oliver’s mother. I’m talking about the area just outside the Golden Grove. It still gives me the shivers to this day. The monsters here are so powerful and aggressive that your small team of nobody really doesn’t stand a chance, and so you have two options: run and hope to avoid every fight, or go back into the woods and grind a bit for levels, money, and health-restoring items. Naturally, me being me, I ran for it. Which was not very successful for the first few attempts, though I did eventually get out of the area, only to find myself in an even more dangerous spot, though much more suited for grinding.

Oh boy. Now, truthfully, I only stopped playing Phantasy Star II because the cold weather is here, and the Xbox 360 is in the living room, which gets no heat for the whole horrid season, and so it must wait until the snow melts before I can get back into it. And by it, I naturally mean grinding for levels and much-needed moolah while trying to figure out exactly where to go next. Thankfully, the music is so good that it makes grinding more pleasant than not, but it took me forever just to reach the first Bio-Systems Lab areas.

Hey, remember Eternal Sonata? I sometimes do. Beautiful grass in that game, and it’s not every day you come across an RPG so heavily themed and dedicated to that theme. I mean, really…Polka is a terrible name for a young girl. But whatever. Every now and then, I think about going back and playing it some more. But that would mean starting over because I got to that ghost ship section and found myself severely under-leveled with no hope of gaining enough levels quick enough to defeat…uh, the boss Captain Dolce. From reading up some walkthroughs, it sounds like I messed up and didn’t spend enough time aimlessly grinding when I could. Oh well.

I’m sure if I spent some more time looking through my collection I could come up with another five to ten RPGs that are grind-heavy early on, but I need to end this post somewhere. If you have one I missed talking about, let me know about it in the chat! That is, if you can spare some time away from your efficient, but meticulous level-gaining strategy.

Mixing items with items to make more items in Ni no Kuni

ni-no-kuni alchemy pot update

Of all the videogame-based alchemy systems, I can confidently say that I like the one in Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch the least. Which is a shame, as Level-5 generally knows what its doing with its item synthesizing mechanics, a gameplay element that warms me greatly. Seriously, I love it. You take one item, mix it with another, and get something–more often than not–greater than the sum of its parts. My feverish appreciation probably all dates back to mixing herbs together for stronger health potions in Resident Evil 2, but if a game has any kind of alchemy element, I’m in. Heck, I bought Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny solely on this reasoning, even though its very name scares the life out of me and I’ve not played it yet.

In Dragon Quest VIII and Dragon Quest IX, you have a magical pot for all your brewing needs. In the former, it travels with you, riding on the princess-drawn carriage with her goblin father. In the latter, it stays put at the Quester’s Rest inn, which you must visit to do your mixing thing. Either way, you put items together and hope for the best, or you can pick up recipes (or clues) along your journey for killer gear. In VIII, you had to wait a bit for the pot to create the item–maybe about ten or fifteen minutes–which made grinding more bearable, as you battled for XP while waiting to hear that salivating ding that indicated your item was done. They took this away for IX, probably because it was on the DS and meant to be played in short, portable bursts, so waiting was not an option.

In Rogue Galaxy, you have two different ways to create new items: Weapon Fusion and the Factory. Basically, all weapons gain XP from battle until they are maxed out, wherein they can then be synthesized along with a similar weapon to create something new. Toady, a strange frog monster, helps with this by swallowing both weapons and spitting out something new; one could argue it is an alchemy pot. However, you don’t really know if something is going to turn out great and just have to chance it, though Toady will also warn you if the results are really negative. For the Factory, it’s more of a puzzle system, where you have to line up machine parts to get it running properly to create a special item from a set of blueprints.

For non-Level-5 joints with alchemy-based systems, it’s a mixed bag, with most alchemy systems fairly uninteresting or just bad altogether.

Odin Sphere has the player combining two items to generate a new item during gameplay, which is then stored in a “Material” bottle. These bottles can be improved as well by alchemizing two of them together to get a material bottle valued at the multiplicative product of the two original bottles (e.g., Material 2 combined with Material 3 results in a Material 6 bottle). It’s a bit complicated, and I don’t even remember getting to it during my first hour with the game, and I’ve not gone back since. I remember more about various plants you grow during battle than the alchemy, which says a lot, I guess.

And then there’s Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, all of which with systems that are nothing more than perfunctory.

However, in Ni no Kuni, the alchemy system is unnecessarily clunky. You have two options once you obtain the alchemy pot and its genie master Al-Khemi in Castaway Cove: use a recipe or mix and match. If you have all the right ingredients, simply click “use a recipe” and Al-Khemi with automatically take care of it for you. For mixing and matching, you are either guessing or looking up the select few recipes available in your Wizard’s Tome, a tedious process that involves you backing out of the alchemy menu, into the tome menu, zooming down on the page for alchemy, zooming in more to find the recipe you want, mumble it to yourself a few times so you don’t forget, exiting back out to the main menu, back into the alchemy menu, and trying to create something based off of what you were mumbling to yourself.

The sad part of all that? Even if you are successful and create an item, the recipe does not appear in your list of “acquired” recipes; you can only get ones added there from completing errands or earning ’em as the story progresses. That means, even though I successfully made a Fishburger from White Bread (x2), a Dumbflounder, and Crispy Lettuce, I can’t quickly select it again down the line from my recipes list; I have to either remember how to do it from scratch or go back into my tome to remind myself of what is actually in a Fishburger. In short–I really don’t like this. All it means is that I now have to play Ni on Kuni with my laptop next to me open to some recipe wiki page, instead of staying immersed in the game.

What a bummer. At this point, I’d rather just have a repeat of Dragon Quest IX‘s system.

Experiencing the swift smack of death in Ni no Kuni

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I died three times last night in Ni no Kuni, and I’m only four hours into the game. To say the uptick in the combat’s difficulty caught me by surprise would absolutely nail it. I mean, yeah, Drippy warned me to avoid fighting monsters in the new area we just got to and simply make a bee-line for Al Mamoon out in the desert, but I didn’t think he actually meant that. Plus, with a Save Stone sorta nearby, I figured I could do a little bit of grinding and heal up for free before moving on. Um, that’s not how things went.

First, just like in Dragon Quest VIII and IX, death is not final in Ni no Kuni. There is no perma-death for Oliver and his familiars, and the Game Over screen offers you a choice: return to the main menu to load your last hard save, or lose 10% of your money, called Guilders, and pop back into the game wherever it last auto-saved. For me, that place was upon exiting the Golden Grove. And at this point in the game, I did not have much money, and 10% of not much is, shockingly, not that much, and so I chose to pay the pauper and restart each time. I wonder if you’ll be able to visit a bank later on and safekeep your earnings while you go out and live dangerously. It’s either that or spend a lot of it before you fight in dangerous locations since there’s a good chance you’ll lose a slice or two of your earnings.

Let’s talk about the reason behind Oliver and company’s unexpected crumbling: the monsters. Now, sure, I was feeling fairly confident leaving the Golden Grove, as I had just defeated a–well, in my eyes–fairly tough boss called the Gladiataur, which required a lot of switching between familiars and eating of sandwiches for HP regeneration and the heavy use of the Defend button. I can’t say for sure what level the non-boss monsters in the Golden Grove were, but I feel like they were around 8 or 9, which is level with where I had Oliver and two out of three of his familiars. However, once you exit the Golden Grove, you’ll find monsters seemingly around level 12 or 13, and they can completely take out the team in a few hits, especially if symbol alignment is in their favor.

The very first monster we ran into killed us. Maybe two or three hits to my level 10 Mitey. Then, heeding the words of the Lord High Lord of the Faeries, I avoided monsters until I couldn’t, as there is a sort of hound-like beast in the desert that is too fast for Oliver to avoid. It killed us fast. The third time saw me trying to take a new path over to Al Mamoon, only to have that hound-like monster stomp us flat. My fourth attempt at making it to the city proved successful, with no encounters at all, but now I’m seemingly stuck in Al Mamoon, and hopefully there are some ways to level up before I have to head back out into the wild. Otherwise, things don’t look good for the future. Sorry, Oliver’s mom.

I’m not sure if the appearance of these super strong monsters is deliberate from Level-5/Studio Ghibli or my fault. Should I have leveled Oliver up to 12 or 13 before proceeding on with the story, thus making these monsters more balanced? Though that might have then made the ones in the Golden Grove severely underpowered. And there wasn’t too much left to do in terms of side-quests in Ding Dong Dell or near it (from what I explored), so I felt it was time to move on story-wise. It’s hard to say, really. But now I expect Oliver and his battle-loving critters to succumb to Death’s call many more times; I just hope I won’t have to pay too high of a price to try again.

Champing at the bit to play Level-5’s Ni no Kuni

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I am champing at the bit, foaming at the mouth, sitting on the edge of my seat, barely breathing properly, raring to go, ready and willing, and/or hot to trot to experience Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. If all those crazy synonyms don’t make it clear, I am extremely excited over this JRPG from Level-5 and Studio Ghibli. And it stems more from the Level-5 aspect than the Studio Ghibli, which might surprise some people. Sure, I love Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service and the amount of wonder and childlike imagination they give off, but I love Rogue Galaxy, Dark Cloud 2, and Dragon Quest VIII ten times more. To be honest, those are three RPGs that really shaped my late teens and early 20s.

Let’s go through them in the order I devoured them.

Dark Cloud 2 really is its own game more than a sequel to a sub-par Zelda wannabe. Which I had and played at some time. Never got very far in it though, but it at least was something to do on my PlayStation 2 other than watching Metropolis over and over. But the sequel…oh man. It was just stuffed with gameplay mechanics, most of which were intuitive and fun and worth the work. Not Spheda though. You had the Georama system, which allowed Max to rebuild villages to your taste. Then you had randomly created dungeons, a camera to snap photos for inventions, breakable weapons, a ride-pod thing named Steve who you can upgrade, and action-based combat. Also, fishing. Plus, colorful settings and a light-hearted story, with some cheese to it. It was a game my sister also fell into, and we’d play together on her save since she disliked the battles, but loved exploring and building towns. Though I never beat it, I do mean to…one day.

I ended up picking up Dragon Quest VIII right as I moved out of my parents’ home and to my own apartment after college and getting my first job in northern New Jersey. It was exciting times, but also poor times, and I ended up not getting cable or Internet installed in my place for two and a half months. This meant a lot of DVD watching and digesting books, but also some serious time spent playing JRPGs, like DQVIII. Which was perfect for eating away at time, with so much to do and see and explore and collect: alchemy recipes, monsters, mini coins, and so on. Funnily enough, I was actually playing DQVIII when the cable guy showed up to install stuff, and he asked me some questions about it, whether it was any good or not. I told him it was brimming with things to do, as well as just a pure joy to explore. That remains true to this day.

Lastly, Rogue Galaxy, a game I’d venture to call underrated. Yes, it has terribly long and drawn out cutscenes, but that’s JRPGs for you. Everything else more than makes up for its sluggish pace at times. You have bounty hunts and skill trees to fill out, as well as a sickeningly deep weapon alchemy system. Oh, and a bug battling championship called the Insectron. All of which I ate up. The combat is all right and has its moments, but towards the end I just found myself able to efficiently spam special moves and clear out enemies in one go. Y’know, I’m just gonna give Rogue Galaxy its own post one day soon so y’all can learn what you missed out on, like a race of shark-people.

In short, Level-5 packs their games full of Stuff, and I love that. It’s not enough that there’s a lengthy plot to follow, but give me miscellaneous tasks and side projects, and I’m in it for the long haul. Looks like Ni no Kuni is following this tradition with familiars to collect, parts of a magical book to piece together, merits to earn from side quests, alchemy, and on and on and on. Plus, it looks fantastic thanks to Studio Ghibli’s involvement, and really presents a magical world that one wants to be in, even if it’s filled with talking cats and cows.

So yeah, I like Level-5’s games a lot. If you need more evidence of my appreciation and confidence in what Level-5 puts out, then there is this: I am buying a PlayStation 3 this weekend so that I can play Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. Specifically, the special classic white bundle Sony recently announced. White for the White Witch. Oh man, I totally fell for it. Too late now.