Once upon a time, long, long ago, I had a retail copy of Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which is a light-hearted platformer developed by Good-Feel and HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo for the Wii way back in 2010. Then, during my divorce, I gave up the Wii and most of its games, yet ended up still having the case of the game, along with the manual…minus the disc. Hmm. I suspect it was inside the Wii when it was unplugged and all that because I’m usually pretty good when it comes to not losing my beloved videogames. Thankfully, I can stop looking for it because I have a newer, shinier version of it to play.
Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn for the Nintendo 3DS might very well be the system’s last big release. I don’t see much else coming out down the road, but you never know…I feel like a lot of people are constantly surprised to see the handheld still being supported, but it makes sense to me when you factor in its large user base. Sure, most have probably moved on to the Nintendo Switch by now, as I will eventually do one day, whenever they get around to announcing an Animal Crossing-themed bundle. Anyways, it’s an enhanced remake of Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Wii, which means it has the same content as the original release, but also includes new power-ups, modes, and sub-games starring Meta Knight and King Dedede as playable characters. Alas, this version now lacks co-op, so Prince Fluff is not playable, but that’s okay…it’s perfectly fine for solo-ing.
Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn‘s not a plot-heavy adventure despite the word epic in its title. Kirby is wandering around Dream Land one day when an evil wizard banishes him to Patch Land, a world made up entirely of fabric. Kirby is transformed as well, including his powers. He can no longer copy the abilities of enemies by eating them whole; instead, Kirby can shift form into various vehicles and other devices. Using this and his yarn whip, he journeys through Patch Land as he attempts to put it all back together.
Many originally complained that the Wii game was a bit too easy and forgiving, almost built for children. Well, for those that want more challenge for their cutesy pink platforming star, the introduction of a new Devilish Mode will keep seasoned gamers more on their toes. This new mode ups the challenge a teeny bit–this will never be a splatformer–by having a devil-like character following Kirby the entire time, trying to get in his way or hit him with tossed items. I tried it a few times and found that, ultimately, it is not for me; I like taking my time and exploring every nook and cranny, getting every gem I can, but this mode forces you to keep moving and never stand still. No thanks, but it is there if you want it.
Along with Devilish Mode, there are two extra additions to the original Kirby’s Epic Yarn experience exclusive to the Nintendo 3DS version, plus amiibo and StreetPass support, both of which I no longer care about or am able to do. These are the minigames starring King Dedede and Meta Knight; one is called Dedede Gogogo, and the other is Slash & Bead, and both are relatively similar to each other. For Dedede Gogogo, it is basically an endless runner with Dedede moving across the screen, hitting or diving through whatever comes into his path all while trying to collect as many beads as possible. Slash & Bead has a teensy bit more agency, allowing the player to freely explore the screen, hacking and slashing at everything as the legendary Meta Knight. Each minigame contains four stages to complete, and you can craft…uh, things, such as a yarn donut, with some of the gems and materials you collect in these minigames. It’s not a boatload of extra stuff, but it is something else to do.
Here’s the thing. For Kirby’s Epic Yarn, I never got that far, maybe just to Hot Land. The reasoning behind this is because I was playing it with my then-partner, and we just didn’t end up returning to it after our first gleeful initial session with it. For Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn, I’m already at Hot Land and excited to keep playing. I also am looking forward to decorating my apartment with all things green, as well as helping to flesh out the other apartments with required furniture and wallpaper. It’s not Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, but I’ll take it.
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.
At first, I thought it was called Kirby Battle Royale–y’know, the game where 100 Kirbys jump out of a plane, land on an island, and must fight each other to death. Then I thought it was Kirby Star Allies, which is some new thing full of big reveals coming out real soon for the Nintendo Switch. Lastly, I thought it was Kirby’s Blowout Blast…but nope, none of those are right. I mean, yes, they exist and are all technically games starring the titular pink vacuum-beast, but the game I am playing and constantly forgetting the name of is Team Kirby Clash Deluxe. Oy vey. Look, there have been a lot of similar-sounding and looking Kirby-based games coming out of Nintendo these last few years, and it is difficult to keep them all separate.
Evidently, to make things even more complicated and layered, Team Kirby Clash Deluxe is a spin-off of a mini-game from 2016’s Kirby: Planet Robobot, available as a free-to-start digital down on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. It’s a game entirely made up of boss fights from previous Kirby-starring games, with all your favorite cute-as-heck baddies showing up, like Waddle Dee, Meta Knight, and King Dedede. RPG elements like leveling up, class types, and unlocking new weapons and armor sets are the key to making your Kirby super strong. You can take on the fights somewhat alone, with three computer-controlled Kirbys–should it be Kirbies?–or you can team up online with other real-life players; I’ve not tried the latter, and I’m doing just fine without human help, though I guess then I’m missing the whole point of this experience. For what it’s worth, I’ve never done much online multiplaying on my Nintendo 3DS, save for Animal Crossing: New Leaf and a few matches of ScareScraper slash Thrill Tower from Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. I like flying solo.
Now, the fighting in Team Kirby Clash Deluxe is not the most technical or satisfying combat system this side of the moon. It’s mashy and chaotic and that’s never really been the focus of Kirby games, of which my favorites are Kirby’s Dream Land 3 and Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Speaking of the latter, I seemingly still have my case and instruction manual for it, but no longer the disc. Boo to that. Also, not-favorites in the franchise include Kirby and the Amazing Mirror. Anyways, you can freely switch your Kirby between four different classes, which are as follows:
These classes are basically locked-in versions of when Kirby would copy an enemy’s ability for his own nefarious purposes in a traditional game. Y’know, but sucking them into his mouth and swallowing them whole. Class-wise, they are easy to figure out, with Sword Hero being a general warrior type, Beam Mage being a ranged wizard, Dr. Healmore is your cleric, and Hammer Lord is most definitely a tank. I’m putting all my chips, and therefore Gem Apples and currency fragments, into Beam Mage, buying weapon and armor sets as they unlock because trying to spread out my spending on multiple classes, without using real money–more on that in a bit–is a fool’s errand. I really like the Beam Mage’s Time Stop ability and the fact that I can keep my distance from bosses and let my AI-driven team get in close for me. As fights progress, the boss will drop stone tablets, and if you collect all four of them you can perform a supermove that deals massive damage; other than that, the strategies are mash attacks and heal and dodge when necessary and obvious.
Let’s now talk about the free-to-play stuff. Team Kirby Clash Deluxe‘s freemium currency is Gem Apples, and there’s a tree in your main hub area that will give you five Gem Apples every 12 hours. Naturally, you can also buy Gem Apples for real cash money through the nearby shop or upgrade the tree itself for better harvests, and I wish I could tell you what the best deal is, but I honestly haven’t even looked at the prices. Each boss fight requires a certain amount of Vigor to take on, which recharges over time–it’s basically your standard energy system to restrict you from playing too much at once. You can instantly refill the meter by eating a Gem Apple or leveling up. Gem Apples are also used to unlock new boss fights and, along with additional currency requirements, acquire new weapons and armor. At first, everything only takes a few Gem Apples to do, but as you progress the amounts required will increase, insisting you pay real money for more; thankfully, I’m as patient as an anaconda hunting its prey and don’t mind checking in every 12 hours or so for my free Gem Apples, stockpiling them until I can unlock the next whatever.
So, similar to my approach with Pokémon Shuffle, Disney Magic Kingdoms, and other free-to-play games, I’m okay taking it slow in Team Kirby Clash Deluxe, so long as I get to see a majority of its stuff. Some of these armor sets look adorable on the ol’ pink sphere. I doubt I’ll get my Kirby up to level 50–he’s currently sitting rotund at level 12–but I’ll keep checking in on this until the Gem Apple requirements truly become too steep to climb.
Miitopia‘s been a long-time coming. I don’t say this from a place of knowledge, but rather observation. Naturally, it all began on the Nintendo Wii, with the company’s introduction of Miis, Nintendo’s take on customizable avatars. Miis are created using different body, facial, and clothing features. The options are somewhat limited, but still detailed enough to make a solid representation of yourself or your favorite celebrity. No, really, take a look. In fact, even after all these years, I still think my Mii avatar looks closest to what I look like in real life than my Xbox avatar or any character I’ve made in my likeness for an epic RPG, save maybe for my boss in Saints Row: The Third, just kiddin’.
Since then, the Miis have shown up in several RPG-esque titles, such as Pokémon Rumble World,Tomodachi Life, and, of course, the StreetPass Mii Plaza minigames, specifically Find Mii and Find Mii 2, where the seed of Miitopia was certainly planted. Though the quirkiness of Tomadachi Life is highly prevalent, as is also the randomness, to the game’s detriment, but more on that in just a bit. I’d apologize for all the hyperlinks in this paragraph, but those are all games I’ve played and have a bunch of thoughts on, so if you like reading, then click, click, click away.
So, in Miitopia, the citizens of a mighty eccentric kingdom need saving. Why? Well, the Dark Lord is ripping the faces off of Miitopians and attaching them to all kinds of monsters. This is naturally causing a lot of chaos and distress, and it is up to the player’s party to defeat these monstrosities, return the rightful faces, and bring back peace to this silly fantasy land. Here’s my cast of zany characters so far:
Whew. That’s a lot, I know, and there could be more people to cast in various roles to go. I’m hoping to get at least two more party members, as I need a chef and a warrior to balance everything out. Also, many of these roles were automatically filled in when I started Miitopia, but one can switch Miis out at any time. I’m okay with the selections so far, as I at least got to decide on who is and who is not royalty, as well as my main fighting crew. Strangely, the zany mix of people works out quite well and creates some fun, silly situations, such as Morgan Freeman comforting Snape after taking damage or my sister ending up in a love triangle between the two of them and causing jealousy and heartbreak to run wild.
Look, I love role-playing games. I’m pretty obsessive about them, and I enjoy, for the most part, all types. Action RPGs, JRPGs, Western RPGs, big RPGs, bite-sized RPGs, anime-heavy RPGs, and even some SRPGs. Naturally, the element that distinguishes most RPGs is the combat, the battle system, the whatever. The part where you attack an enemy opposition and gain experience points, money, and loot from them to help you grow in levels and defeat stronger progress-blocking walls. It’s what you do between cutscenes and exploring towns. Alas, so far, I’m not in love with Miitopia‘s combat system, which is a core part of its gameplay loop.
Battles in Miitopia are turn-based, but you can only control what your avatar does. The other members of your party act on their own, making their own decisions, for better or for worse. Not having control of my entire party is a strong design choice, one that saw me bounce hard off of games like Phantasy Star II and Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light. It also rears its ugly head in Suikoden III, which I’m simultaneously noodling with, post on that game coming soon. From the world map, you select an area to explore, also not in your control, eventually triggering specific events or random battles. The action order is determined by each Mii and monster’s speed statistic, with everyone getting one action per turn, save for bosses because they like to break rules.
When creating your Mii party members, you must give each one a quirk, such as stubborn or kind, and these play out in how your character grows and performs in battle. For example, a stubborn Mii might cast a spell twice if they are unsatisfied with the results, and a kind Mii will occasionally take damage for a friend not paying attention. I went with laid-back for myself, if you were curious. Bonds are also built between Miis by having them share a room at the inn after a day of battling and opening treasure chest or interacting in battle. Each level of friendship between two Miis brings about even more random abilities you can’t control, such as showing off for friends or consoling them when necessary, all which provide boosts. It makes watching the battles a little more engaging, but also frustrating because you never know what anyone is going to do and, sometimes, they do the wrong thing.
Other strange elements to combat include the safe spot and sprinkles. The former is a single space behind your adventuring party where a wounded or afflicted Mii can recuperate faster or heal its HP/MP over time and not be a target for the enemy. Sprinkles, other than being the wrong name for those colorful sugar strands you put on ice cream, are additional boosts in the form of salt shakers. You have one for HP, one for MP, and one for reviving a downed Mii, of varying amounts, and these replenish between fights. They are also upgraded over time as you defeat more enemies. At least you have control of when you want to use these and how.
I don’t intend to come across as highly negative on the game, as there is a lot to Miitopia that is enjoyable, specifically its music. No, really–listen to the tune that plays on loop on the main menu. I promise you it’ll get your head bobbin’ in no time. There’s a bunch of other quirky tunes that play throughout your adventures, such as when eating stat-raising food or playing the mini-games or watching a scene where one Mii gives another Mii a special present. From an audio perspective, this thing is pure glee and delight.
Well, this post went long. My bad. Looks like I have some strong opinions already about Miitopia, and I’m only a couple hours in. I really do want to stick with it and see where things go, but I don’t know if I can handle another uncontrollable Mii losing a fight due to casting Sleep on my sister instead of Fire on the almost defeated boss. Yeah, Severus Snape, LV 9 mage, I’m talking about you.
I’ve not played every single LEGO video game out there, but I’ve gone through a good amount, most of which were in order of release. For me, it began with LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game back on the PlayStation 2, but it’s probably more accurate to say that the starting point for the evolution of these LEGO video games from TT Games began with LEGO Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues. That’s where you began to see things like an enlarged hub world to explore and a split-screen camera option for when playing with a co-op partner, both of which have become mainstays for the series. Going back to play LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga recently has shown me just how far the series has come, for better or…no, just better. It’s only gotten better.
That’s not to say LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga is a bad game or un-fun. Mel and I have been having a good time completing levels, collecting studs, unlocking red bricks, buying multipliers, and revisiting areas for hidden collectibles. We chip away at the larger beast. The LEGO grind is here, but it’s enjoyable because, compared to LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, not every level takes upwards of an hour to complete. Not every door requires you to solve a minigame to open it. Not every puzzle is dastardly obtuse. I guess there’s some worse in the newer entries after all.
LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga is basically a compilation of LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game and its sequel LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, that way you can play through them all together using one single product. Which is good for us because I only ever played through the former of those two, and Mel played the latter with her brother many moons ago. So we both got to experience some new areas together. Also, the game incorporates two previously deleted levels–“Anakin’s Flight” and “Bounty Hunter Pursuit”–though I’m only finding out about this now. Many other levels were redesigned and updated so that both games worked with each other and felt unified. Either way, the games follow the movies, which means you’ll get to see the exciting Trade Federation negotiations go down, young Anakin grow up, watch Luke learn about his father and The Force, and see Ewoks take down the Empire with sticks and stones. Since this is an older entry in the series, the cutscenes are wordless reproductions, but still silly when they want to be.
Here’s something I didn’t expect to ever say: Jar Jar Binks is essential. Early on, his ability to both double jump and jump high is pivotal for getting some hidden minikits, red bricks, or blue studs, which are the ones worth the most money. We brought him into every level we could during Free Play. I do miss the camera that would split in half and allow both players to do their own desires; here, you are stuck to each other, and often it made things easier for one player to simply drop out then for both to jump across sinking platforms floating in red-hot lava. Also, the flying levels are a struggle, especially when you need to get from point A to point B with missiles or a bomb being dragged behind you, and the whole world is out to make you explode. Later, we managed to make a door glitch out and not open despite doing everything right because glitches need stitches. Or something like that. Sorry, I didn’t know how to end that sentence.
We’re currently around the 65% completion mark, with several more levels to fully finish. Then there are special levels to do after you complete everything else, as well as challenges, arcade mode, playing online, gold bricks to buy, characters and vehicles to unlock, special cross-over Achievements to pop, and so on. Only after all that, after we see that 100.0% high in the sky, can we happily put LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga to bed. Still, this has been good co-op fun, which is not bad in July 2017 for the 23rd greatest video game of all time, according to the Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition in 2009.
Rounding up outlaws
One crosshair duel at a time
I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.
It’s bad enough that there are somewhere in the upward hundreds of games in my never not growing collection that I haven’t touched and probably won’t for a good while, but then there are more than a handful of videogames with smaller games inside them that I have only skimmed the surface of, unable to devote more time to them, with my core focus on seeing the bigger picture draw to a close. I just hit this very moment in Night in the Woods with the game’s small yet mighty pixelated dungeon crawler Demontower, which is clearly taking cues from Dark Souls and requires a lot of focus to be successful in.
These are commonly called minigames, and some of them certainly dance on the edge of mini and major. I’m not here to argue semantics, nor am I referencing those slivers of gameplay in the Mario Party series. I’m here to dream a little dream, one where I get to dive oh-so-deep into these things, as many of them are definitely large enough to lose a good chunk of life and time into.
So here’s a bunch of minigames that truly deserved more of my precious hours, and I don’t know if they’ll ultimately ever get that pleasure. Spoilers and no surprises from me on this reveal: two of them are card-based.
“XENOCard” from Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht
Sometimes I think I want to write about Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht simply so I can use its full title. It really is a beautiful thing. The sequels, which I alas do not own and probably never will due to their steep prices on Amazon, up the ante immensely. Really, look now: Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse and Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra. My oh my oh my.
Anyways, in Xenosaga Episode I, besides getting hot e-mails and a robot lady to battle by your turn-based side, you can play a card game called, as far as I can tell, Xenocard. The goal is to achieve victory by forcing your opponent to run through his or her entire deck, leaving them with no remaining cards. You can attack your opponent’s deck in a number of ways, forcing him to lose cards. At the same time, you must take protective measures for guarding your own deck from quick depletion.
It’s surprisingly complex–I mean, just look at the interface layout above–and not too different from things like Magic: The Gathering though I never got too far into the game to play a whole bunch because, for those that don’t know, there’s a lot of long cutscenes to sit and watch and not interact with, and so I most likely put this aside for something a little more engaging. Maybe one day I’ll return to the world of…Lost Jerusalem (Earth). Maybe.
“Insectron” from Rogue Galaxy
Man, did I love Rogue Galaxy. That’s a statement, not a question. It’s a Level-5 JRPG from the PlayStation 2 days that does all the Level-5 things you now come to expect of the company, and it’s a fun, often silly, sometimes serious, take on all things Star Wars. However, I spent far more time feeding items and weapons to a magical frog-thing to make better gear and creating Rube Goldberg machines in the factory than I did with the game’s “Insectron” minigame. Insectors are small insects that you can catch at various places throughout the galaxy. Basically, this universe’s version of Pokemon, but buggier. The purpose for catching them is to make a team that can win battles against other opponents at the Insectron Stadium.
There are two parts to this massive sinkhole. First, you have to collect the insects. Unfortunately, the probability of catching an Insector is random. You have to find a good location, place traps or cages, fill them with bait, and then wait until you hear a specific sound indicating something’s happening. If you want even better Insectors, you’ll need to invest serious time into breeding. Next, you can begin to raise your collection, upping their ranks and feeding them special items to grow specific attributes. You can see the seeds of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch‘s familiars here.
Once you are satisfied with your team of Insectors, you can start battling. The battles at the Insectron Championship are done tournament-style. Win five matches to advance through one rank, then rinse and repeat. Insectron matches are 5-on-5 battles, and one of your team’s five Insectors is labeled the King. If you defeat your opponent’s King, you win. However, the Insector designated as the King is limited to only moving one space at a time. I think I attempted a few battles, but, having only used a sliver of the untrained Insectors I did manage to catch, did not get very far in the tournament and left the whole thing behind to see Jasper Rogue’s story draw to conclusion.
“Triple Triad” from Final Fantasy VIII
2016 was the year that I finally saw Final Fantasy IXfrom beginning to end. To do this, I had to sacrifice the desire to go after every side quest, as well as the dream of being the legendary best Tetra Master player in the world. This meant I mostly just collected the cards and moved on with the adventure. I also ignored other minigames in Final Fantasy IX, such as Chocobo Hot and Cold and finding all those medallion coins. It’s fine; I’m fine. That all said, of the handful of Final Fantasy games I’ve played, I think I’d prefer to go back to Final Fantasy VIII and study up on all things Triple Triad, if given the time.
In Final Fantasy VIII, you could go up to a random NPC, press the square button, and maybe find yourself in a card game. As always, the goal is simple: capture as many of your opponent’s cards as possible by making sure you place higher-ranked cards adjacent to an enemy card. Easy enough, but the rules are what make this game deceptively tough and addicting, especially considering those rules can change depending where you are geographically in the game. More or less, it’s a modified version of Tic-Tac-Toe, played on a 3×3 grid. Players take turns placing a card down, and each card contains a “compass rose” of four different numbers (1-9, with “A” representing 10). Higher levels contain higher numbers, and these stats determine whether you’ll take the adjacent enemy card as your own or lose to its strength.
I remember wanting to simply collect all the character-specific cards, but then realizing I’d have to risk a lot of my collection to get them. Big ol’ boo to that. Also, the fact remains that disc 3 from my PlayStation 1 retail copy is still gone, given to a “friend” to borrow and then move away with, so I’ll never acquire that full digital collection of friendly faces like Selphie Tilmitt and…well, really, there’s only room for Selphie in my heart. Maybe Quistis Trepe. Evidently, you can play Triple Traid on some smartphones, but probably shouldn’t.
“Spheda” from Dark Cloud 2
I think about this fact from time to time: despite getting to the last chapter, I have not yet beaten Dark Cloud 2. This probably needs to be remedied at some point, but I don’t know what is more daunting–loading up my years-old save and having a forgetful go at it or starting over fresh. I mean, yeah, I did miss a few photo opportunities early on during some boss battles. Well, I’m not here to talk about that, though it is just one of a few minigames or side activities you can take on in Dark Cloud 2, brushing shoulders with fishing and rebuilding towns, as well as Spheda.
What is Spheda? Glad you asked. It’s basically playing golf to repair time distortions. Mmm-hmm. You read that correctly. In short, the only way to fix these time distortions is to get a colored sphere back into the distortion hole, and you do that by whacking it around a cleared-out dungeon like you are playing mini-golf at the boardwalk during the summer. Except you do want to go off the main path and bounce the ball around corners. Each time a distortion is successfully closed, you’ll get a treasure chest containing valuable items. In addition, the player receives a medal, which can be traded to Mayor Need for, you guessed it, other items. Yay for items.
I’d have to load up my save to confirm this, but I think I was successful on one–and only one–round of Spheda. It’s hard. You only have so many shots to get it into the time distortion, and the dungeons are long and windy, with many sharp turns. I remember hitting the ball to be no easy task either, considering this is a JRPG and not a golf simulator. I wonder if I’d have more patience now to learn the ins and outs of this or if the loot is even worth all the effort.
“Cops and Robbers” from Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
I believe I played “Cops and Robbers” exactly once, with an ex, while waiting for my father to arrive for a visit. Because I used to document my life extensively, I can tell you it was around the time of this comic strip. The objective of this minigame in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves is simple: get five points. One player controls Inspector Carmelita Fox, and the other steers that sneaky devil Sly Cooper. There’s only one map to play on, in Venice. Basically, Carmelita gets a single point every time she takes out Sly, and Sly gets one point every time he takes out Carmelita, as well as one point for every piece of loot he retrieves and takes to a designated drop-off area. Clearly, Sly has more options, but all Carmelita has to focus on is zapping him with her shock pistol.
To mix up the fleeing and pursuing, floating stars are sprinkled around the main section of the city. These provide either character with a power-up that can be used one to five times before a meter depletes. Each player has access to a compass that reveals where your opponent is. I remember it working well, though I have stronger memories tied to the mode where you are flying biplanes around. Oh well.
There’s also a whole treasure map aspect to eat up, which allows Sly to utilize clues, such as “stand before the statue’s gaze, to begin your walk along the treasure’s maze,” that eventually lead to the objective, which in most occasions is treasure. It’s fun and gives me confidence that I could probably star in a remake of The Goonies if asked. No one’s going to ask.
Well, that’s all I can come up with at the moment though I guarantee I’m missing other standout examples. Like “Feitas” from Suikoden V. And “Tombstones” and “Rage Frenzy” from Rage. Grrr. See, told you there’s plenty more.
Anyways, what minigames did you only barely touch and regret not fully experiencing? Well, maybe regret is too strong a word. Either way, tell me about them in the comments below. I want to know.
I wanted to see Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy end many times since picking it up and putting it down for the last two-plus years, but it seemingly refused to do so. It kept pushing its closing moments and credits further away. The game continued warning me that there was no turning back only to then reveal that, yeah, you can totally turn back to find those hint coins and last remaining puzzles or just meander aimlessly from region to region. I will freely admit that I didn’t help thrust this story to its resolution after I discovered what the whole World Times side quest was all about–don’t worry, I’ll explain more a few paragraphs down–but man, this was all a little drawn out.
First, a refresher on the story. Trust me, I needed one after frequently walking away from Layton’s sixth adventure, and the game even provides you a short summary each time you return, to get you back to speed. Right. The mysterious organization called Targent wishes to use the ancient civilization of the Azran’s mystical power for itself. Targent’s rival and everyone’s favorite mask-wearing, self-proclaimed scientist Jean Descole also wants to harness this power. Neither should wield it, naturally. Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy begins with Layton, Luke, and Emmy boarding the airship Bostonius and heading for a place called Froenberg. The three of them received a letter from Professor Desmond Sycamore, an eminent archaeologist, who believes he has found a so-called living “mummy.” Upon arrival, they meet their mummy–Aurora, a girl frozen in ice, closely connected to the Azran civilization.
The story has its moments. I particularly liked searching after the five Azran eggs and seeing where each egg was hidden and how to get it in our meaty paws. For instance, in the jungle village of Phong Gi, the chief of the tribe is only willing to give up his egg to the gang if they can make him laugh. Contrary to that tone, in the windy village of Hoogland, the group learns of a tradition where young women must be sacrificed in order to appease a wind god; thankfully, they discover this is not actually happening and that an Azran machine was creating the stormy winds. Each egg-acquiring section are good, interesting accounts, with many memorable characters taking center stage when Layton isn’t solving a puzzle or two. I will quickly say and not get into spoilers, but the last act of Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is one twist after another, to the point of ridiculousness. It was the closest the game has come to basically being a TV soap opera’s series finale, and no, not in a good way. Sorry, the Emmy thing was too much. I understand this is the last game to star the top hat-wearing gentleman and they probably wanted to go out on a bang, but there was too much bang.
Okay, now let’s chat puzzles. Mmm. If you’ve played a Professor Layton game before, then none of what is here will surprise you. There are mazes, math equations, general deducing, and some guess-work. I hated the ones where you have to recreate a picture using colored blocks and layering them on top of each other, but those are few and unessential. Of all the entries I’ve touched, which include The Curious Village, The Last Specter, and The Miracle Mask, I have to say that this one had the least exciting mini-games to engage with, and that’s saying a lot because one of those mini-games is basically playing dress up, the only thing I cared about in Grand Theft Auto V and one of the main driving forces behind my time with Disney Magical World 2 now. Anyways, there’s Nutty Roller, Bloom Burst, and Dress Up–I completed none of them, but came the closest on the last item. As always, there’s plenty of hint coins in the environment to pick up and use at your discretion; I haven’t felt shame using them for many years now.
So, this whole time, as I’ve been playing Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, one of the sections in Layton’s trunk continued to update with new details–World Times. These are newspaper clips, often popping up after you finished visiting an area, telling some strange side story of an event or character. I swore I thought they were merely cosmetic, there to make the world feel realer, bigger. Nope. They are basically side quests, which lead to more puzzles and unlockable clothing for the dress-up minigame. See, the problem is that I never went back to any of the story locations after completing them, assuming they were good and done, drained of every hidden object, hint coin, and character interaction. Well, I was wrong, and so a large part of my going back to this game involved tracking down every single World Times quest and completing it, which added to its length for sure.
The animated cutscenes continue to be beautifully done. Every time one came up, I’d get real excited and hold the Nintendo 3DS firmly in my hands and slightly closer to my face. They are heavy on action and scenery, which is a great break from the more stilted, and sometimes overdrawn, dialogue-heavy sequences where Layton is trying to get Luke or Emmy to figure out what he already knows. I really should, at some point, track down Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva simply to marvel in these moments for longer than a few minutes. I mean, if truth be told, the puzzles sometimes are just the means to another gorgeous cutscene.
Well, that’s that. I played the very first game in the series, and then the entire trilogy of prequels. Which is rather fitting, as the end of Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy goes right into Professor Layton and the Curious Village, bringing everything full circle. That connective tissue between the two games feels really special, and makes me think about that first adventure differently, knowing what I now know about Layton, Luke, and even Emmy, though she’s obviously not there for their trip to St. Mystere. I have no immediate plans to find copies of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box and Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, especially since a GameStop employee rudely spoiled how the final chronological game in the series concludes. Still, obviously, the best game in the franchise is London Life, and that’s a hill I’m willing to die on.
Well, here we are. It’s autumn 2016 and raining leaves everywhere, and I’ve now seen Final Fantasy IX to its conclusion. Well, in reality, that was a couple months back when it wasn’t as chilly in the morning and all shades of red, orange, and yellow because I’m slow to write these days.
I think it is officially the…third game in the ironically long-lasting series to get crossed off for the history books. The two others include Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy XII. I have also watched–Maker, forgive me–Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within more than once, so perhaps that should count for something. Or maybe I need to really consider never mentioning that publicly ever again. Anyways, this has been a long-time coming, and if any of you reading this blog o’ mine are frequent visitors then you’ll know I’ve been…hmm, actively doesn’t really seem right to use…futilely trying to beat this game since about 2013. Or, if you consider when I actually got my PlayStation 1 copy, then more like the year 2000.
Final Fantasy IX is an RPG that has always managed to grip me with its first several hours of action and adventure and story-telling, and then lose me by the end of the second of four discs. I will continue to stick my flag in the ground and say that this epic adventure is too epic, and that the story should have concluded once Garnet was back in Alexandria, her mother, Queen Brahne, no longer a viable threat. Sure, sure, the whole Kuja side-plot would need some rewriting to make that work, but just have the two go down together and bring on the parades of peace and happiness and Vivi not feeling terrible about his existence. Everything that happens on discs three and four is insane, and I don’t mean crazy in a good. I mean characterized or caused by madness. Honestly, I tried to follow along in earnest, but once we got to the point where we learn that Zidane and Kuja are actually Genomes, sentient soulless beings constructed by Garland for the purpose of acting as hosts for Terran souls when two parallel universes merged…well, I gave up caring. There’s a really good chance I even got some of those details wrong, and I was using an online source.
Here’s the thing. Without its cast, Final Fantasy IX is just another adventure to save the world from destruction. From a single-minded villain. I’ll go out on a limb and say its three most pivotal characters are Zidane, Dagger, and Vivi. Steiner is one note, and that note is amusing and never sways too high or low, but not enough to be top tier. Despite not caring what was happening in the overall plot in the second half of this fever dream, I did care greatly about what was happening to each and with each of these characters, as well as many of the side, almost one-offs, such as Cid and Beatrice. The characters are quirky and troubled, all trying to better themselves or find their place in the world–something I can connect with. Also, those Active Time Events I loved so much? Yeah, they are nearly non-existent in the last two discs, which was a big bummer, as it is in those side snippets that you learn the most about the cast.
As it turns out, despite the number of hours I put into Final Fantasy IX, there are complete sections and quests that I didn’t even dip my toes into, for various reasons. Such as Chocobo Hot & Cold, a mini-game that is so lengthy and involved that it might as well be its own standalone title. Related to this is feeding Kupo Nuts to a Moogle couple and watching their family grow. Now, I did keep up with delivering mail for Mognet, but was unsuccessful in seeing it all the way through; evidently, you can eventually visit the headquarters and save the post office from fading into memory. Dang, that sounds pretty good. I also didn’t fight any of the Treno weapon shop monsters or participate in many games of Tetra Master, content to simply collect the cards, though I’d estimate I didn’t even hit 50% of them by the time credits rolled. There’s even more things I didn’t do, as my focus from disc three forward was on strengthening my team–always Zidane, Vivi, Steiner, and Dagger–and synthesizing good weapons and armor in their fight against Kuja’s evil minions.
Whew. Unsurprisingly, I suspect I have a lot more to say about Final Fantasy IX, but I’d rather wait for those thoughts and revelations to emerge naturally and not force them out through my fingertips. It’s a big game. There’s a lot going on here, and I’m not just talking about mechanics and boss fights and grinding. Vivi’s “who/what am I?” story is handled with such coldness and confusion, and it gets me every time. I still love how perfect the “Dagger Tries” ATE is in Dali. That said, every love connection felt really forced, and that ending cinematic and triumphant reveal was a little too drawn out for my liking. Again, like when I went back to play Primal, I’ve discovered that there’s both good and bad to examine here; real quick, I’m not at all saying that Final Fantasy IX is anything like Primal. In fact, it’s far superior, but both of those games are ones that I played the opening hours over and over again, building them up in my brain and assuming that’s how the entire game went. Nope, nope.
I’m most certainly not ready to commit to another entry in the series at this point. In fact, the only other one I have in my grasp that hasn’t seen its credits roll is Final Fantasy VIII, and I’m missing one of the middle discs because I was young and dumb once and loaned it to a “friend” who ended up moving away with it, which really puts a nail in that quest’s coffin. I would certainly love to dive deeper and play one of the older titles; that NES Classic Edition coming out this holiday season comes packed with the original Final Fantasy, as well as 29 other retro titles. Hmm. Also, perhaps one day, far, far down the road of life, I’ll give Final Fantasy IX another swing since it is now available on Steam and has a tempting list of Achievements to pop.
Until then, I’ll just cast “Sleep” on myself and crawl under a tent as a Moogle softly sings me to safety, to slumber.
Here’s something rather amusing: I was playingSuikoden II as it was announced over the weekend at Sony’s PlayStation Experience event that it was finally, at long last, coming to North America via the PlayStation Network. Take that, outrageously high eBay prices. Instead of dropping over $100, you can now download the epic JRPG for a sliver of that. I’ve read two different reported prices so far: $10.00 and $6.99. Either is a fantastic price for Konami’s sparkly, well-kept gem, one that many might not have gotten to play due to its rareness, as well as it being out-shadowed during its release by Final Fantasy VIII. Yeah, the one with the floating garden school and Junction/Draw system.
That said, after a logged forty-nine hours and change and with my main party of characters all just under level 60, I can safely say that I have playedSuikoden II. Again. The last time was definitely back in the 1990s. Hot off the heels of replaying Suikoden, I found my revisit to Suikoden II even more enjoyable, as well as at least seventy-five percent less goofy. This is a game about darkness and dark things, like betrayal, wavering confidence, murder, sacrifice, and rape. Sure, there’s still a good amount of silliness to balance out the grim, but all in all, this is a serious adventure in the same vein as current mega-RPGs like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Diablo III, with conflicting opinions and difficult choices all around.
Here, let me sum up the plot once more. Suikoden II‘s protagonist, who I named Hodor, goes from being a member of a youth brigade in the Highland Kingdom to being the leader of its opposition. Hodor and his best friend Jowy Atreides each end up acquiring one half of the Rune of the Beginning, both destined to become leaders. Luca Blight is heir to the throne of Highland, as well as a bloodthirsty madman who developed a strong hatred for Jowston early on after witnessing his mother’s rape by thugs hired by City-State capital Muse. Hodor will eventually find himself fighting against Luca and his best friend, for safety, for civility.
The six-party, turn-based combat from the first game returns, with visual upgrades for rune spells, but not many mechanical changes. Yup, there are more Unite attacks to use, as well as the ability to switch between rows during a fight, but I found using “auto” attack to work out well enough in most situations save for boss fights. Since the point is to recruit a bunch of different people for the war, the Suikoden series is one of the few–Chrono Cross is another–that really does encourage you to mix things up and try out new team members. You can’t go wrong with who you select so long as you have a good S/M/L range mix, keep them armored, sharpen their weapons, and give them strong runes. My mainstays throughout the campaign were Flik, Viktor, Nanami, Millie, Futch, Georg Prime, and Valeria, with Hodor acting more as a healer than anything else since his speed allowed him to act first in most fights.
Massive battles and duels are thankfully kept to a minimum, which is fine considering they still require a lot of guesswork or well-hardened knowledge of how rock, paper, scissors works. The massive battles are a little different in that you have to move units around for better positioning like in a strategy RPG, but it’s still a matter of attacking horses with bow and arrows and knowing when to charge with soldiers. If you want, Apple can take over your actions on autopilot. For every duel, I ended up using a wiki guide because, more often than not, these pixelated duels take place after a big boss fight, and I didn’t want to lose any progress. It’s just a matter of selecting the correct choice of defend, attack, or wild attack based on what your enemy says.
By Suikoden II‘s close, I did end up recruiting all 108 Stars of Destiny, but not in time to get the “good” ending, though I still like the ending I saw. Many refer to it as the “tragic” ending, but seeing as I myself recently went through a tragic ending this year, it is rather apropos. Plus, it does that thing from A Link to the Past, where you check in with everyone after the war’s over to see what they are up to. Well, not everyone. Sorry, [redacted] and [redacted]. I missed/skipped out on a few other elements, like Clive’s timed side quest, recruiting the additional squirrel warriors, doing every Richmond investigation, unlocking the hidden bath scenes, and so on. There’s so much small, side stuff in Suikoden II that it can feel very overwhelming; most of it has no effect on the plot, but provides cool little moments or bits of backstory to a game already oozing story from every orifice. Still, after nearly fifty hours, I saw plenty.
If you thought the castle headquarters in Suikoden was neat and fulfilling to explore, just wait until you begin seeing it grow in Suikoden II. I mean, you could spend a good hour just running around the place, examining things, talking to people, seeing where they go when the place upgrades. There’s also mini-games to tackle, like fishing, cooking, and even whacking moles, but I might touch upon those more in a separate post. My regiment was that, every time I popped back to HQ, I’d check the suggestion box for new notes, start/complete an investigation with Richmond, make a pitstop at the warehouse, and then run over to the cafe to do the latest cook-off challenge before using Viki to teleport wherever I needed to go to next. There is legitimate excitement in my heart after recruiting a new member for the group and then scouring the castle for where they reside.
Right. Fun times. I’m going to take a wee breather before moving on to (and starting over) Suikoden III, but I think closing out a less-than-stellar year with one of my absolute favorite gaming experiences next to A Link to the Past is a good thing. Very good. Now, in the wise words of Viktor: “Oi!!!!! Let’s end this damn thing!!!”