Tag Archives: SRPGs

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Vandal Hearts

At first, I couldn’t remember the name of this game. Was it Valiant Hearts? No, that was the dramatic Great War take starring a cool dog from a few years back. Was it Vigilante Hearts? No, though something under that title does appear to exist. At last, after some light Googling, I figured it out and everything came rushing back…Vandal Hearts, one of my first stabs at a strategy RPG, as well as the title that helped pave the way for future classics like Final Fantasy Tactics and the Ogre Battle series. Too bad this one didn’t really go anywhere. Also, don’t expect it to show up on the forthcoming PlayStation Classic…though I’m surprised that both a sequel and a prequel were later made.

Anyways, this Vandal Hearts is a turn-based tactical role-playing video game developed by my once favorite companies Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo for the original PlayStation back in 1997. It’s got a lot of what many modern, staple SRPGs have these days, such as Fire Emblem and its ilk: a grid-based map, a variety of abilities to employ, and rock/paper/scissors combat. Y’know, warriors with swords kill archers, archers kill hawknights, and hawknights kill swordsmen. There’s also healers, mages, heavy armor warriors, and monks to contend with–who later can turn into ninja, y’know like all monks eventually do. Your enemies for each mission is comprised of similar classes, and it’s your responsibility to exploit their weaknesses, and not every mission is about destroying all the enemies as other objectives are in play.

Vandal Hearts‘ story, as far as I can remember and dig up info on, revolves around one Ash Lambert, a young warrior tormented by the traitorous legacy of his father. Ash and his wonderfully named cast of allies have dedicated themselves to stopping a power-mad dictator named Hel Spites–what a name–from rising to power. It’s a bit traditional, but I liked a lot of the characters and dialogues, and there are some early twists to deal with that make their progress slow and, at times, a little dull.

I definitely did not ever beat Vandal Hearts. I probably didn’t even get too far into the whole affair as I knew early on that SRPGs just weren’t my cup of tea. Though many years later some titles would change my mind momentarily. I do remember being confused why archers were not able to shoot diagonally. Also, moving a cursor around with a PlayStation console was a chore and never felt fluid. Still, it’s a game I think about from time to time, maybe because I dig its aesthetic so much, or because I spent so much of my lonely teenager years hanging out with my best friend the gray videogame console adorned with PSM lid stickers, and the music is super solid.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

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Vaike, the first of many permanent deaths in Fire Emblem: Awakening

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Shortly before heading off to MegaCon, I found a retail copy of Fire Emblem: Awakening. That may sound like a rather simple statement, but this 3DS game quickly became rare after dropping in early February in sort of the same fashion as Radiant Historia, with only so many copies shipped to individual retailers. The three GameStops I visited did not have any in stock, nor did the local Target or Best Buy. At last, I found it behind protective glass walls at Walmart. So, y’know, always.

Regardless, I’m glad I got a copy before they all poofed and disappeared, though sadly that’s probably the main reason I purchased Awakening. Not because I have a love for all things SRPG or even any deep experience with the franchise, but because it’s a game that will soon be hard to find, and I’d rather get it now then not and moan and groan later over how difficult it is to obtain, just like I did for Suikoden III and Katamari Damacy for many years. Yes, I’ve become quite a neurotic collector over the past few years, and I’d rather have than have not.

As evident from my bipolar time with Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Overclocked, I’m not very good at strategy-based RPGs. I don’t really understand why that is, as I’d like to think myself pretty decent at action RPGs and just fine with regular RPGs, knowing how to level and equip better armor and grind for XP before the next boss fight. But as soon as I’m tossed onto a grid-like battlefield with a number of units to control, I fall apart. Maybe there’s too much info to absorb and understand, and from what I’ve seen so far of Awakening, there is a lot of data to grok.

Where to begin? Well, I guess with the plot: Chrom, the prince of the Halidom of Ylisse, and his companions, must join together during a turbulent era. The neighboring nation of Plegia has been acting suspiciously as of late, and in response Chrom commands a band of soldiers–called the Shepherds–to keep his country at peace. He encounters an unholy force called the Risen plaguing the lands and a masked swordsman claiming to be Marth, the Hero-King of legend. You end up controlling a character with amnesia who joins the Shepherds by chance. It’s kind of both typical medieval fantasy fare and non-typicalness, with hints of time travel. I’ve only gotten up to the start of Chapter 4, so that’s all I know currently.

And yes, I’m playing Awakening on Normal difficulty…in Classic mode. That means dealing with the permanent death aspect the franchise is known for. When a character’s health is depleted, that’s it–they are dead. No amount of Phoenix Down feathers could possibly bring them back. So you best be prepared for each and every battle, for every minute change to the enemy’s tactics, for every possible scenario and decision. Matt Mason over at Obtain Potion has some strong thoughts on defending casual mode, and I agree that people playing Awakening on Classic, but reloading a save after losing a beloved squad member are doing it wrong. If you care that much, switch to Casual and go about your adventuring, knowing every one is safe and sound in their big boy/girl beds after each battle.

For me, I’m embracing perma-death fully and plan to make it a point to share each and every loss I suffer here on Grinding Down, no matter how grand or small. I’m not trying to play the game as best as possible, following a guide and keeping all the best characters alive and paired perfectly. This is war, and war never changes. There will be deaths, and many more to come, knowing my skills. First up, however, is Vaike, an axe-wielding soldier with fun hair, which is a shame, as he seemed like quite a funny guy. But as quickly as he was introduced in Chapter 3, he was chopped to bits by enemy soldiers. My fault for not paying attention to weapon types.

I played a little more into Chapter 4 last night, losing Sully and Lissa, but also then having my own character die, which brings up the GAME OVER screen. So I kind of get a mulligan on that one, and hope that I can mix up my strategy better to keep everyone, including myself, up and moving. But if I can’t, well…them’s the breaks.

If you have any Awakening tips, please, please share them here. I still don’t understand a lot of it, and only just opened up all the Wireless functionality, which seems to offer side quest maps, new items, other teams to use, and so on. Also noticed that you can forge new items in shops. Oh boy.

An angelic army enslaves the world thanks to Overclocked’s early bad ending

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Well, after battling both demons and angels for a little over forty-five minutes, after losing every single team save for P-san’s, after constant spamming of gun-run-heal tactics, I finally did it. Victory was mine, earned with sweat, devotion, new strategies, the use of the Drain skill, and various sacrifices. I beat that mission in Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Overclocked that has repeatedly kicked my ass these last few days, constructing a roadblock of sorts. With the angels and demons defeated, P-san and his friends Atsuro, Yuzu, and Midori escaped the lockdown, bringing Honda and his frantic buddies along with us for good measure. Y’all welcome.

However, immediately upon exiting, a strange lighting storm appears over the lockdown. The angels, who P-san was beginning to side with, declared that the lockdown was a failure and decided to kill everyone inside it with lightning. Pew pew pew. For those outside the lockdown–namely, P-san and friends and remaining family members–the angels have declared humanity to be in default of their responsibilities as children of God, and an angelic army appears to enslave the world. Anyone who is not immediately subservient is killed outright, and the remainder are stripped of their free will. This is all told via text on the screen, which is then promptly followed by the words “Mission Failed,” sending you back to the main menu to load from a previous save.

It’s heart-wrenching, and not necessarily from a storyline perspective, but the suddenness of a GAME OVER screen after all that story and choice and time spent battling monsters and trying to survive to live another half hour really does leave something to be desired. I mean, this whole time, we’re trying to escape the lockdown, and now you get the chance to, and if you do it YOU LOSE. The logic behind is severely flawed. Evidently, you are supposed to the fight demons and angels and then attack the humans to break their COMPs while also protecting them from the previously mentioned angels and demons who can, in one hit, take them out, and any civilian dying is a mission fail status. So the easiest option of kill everything and run for it results in death, despair, and dropping you back to the start screen.

Evidently, there are six endings in Devil Summoner Overclocked, and of them, one is literally called “the Early Bad Ending,” which is obtained by breaking through the barricades of the Lockdown on Day 6 and escaping after defeating both the angels and demons in your way. I had no idea about this as I played; I was just playing, making the choices that seemed right and logical, like escaping the demon-filled lockdown at first chance. For that, I felt like I should have been rewarded, but instead I was punished.

When the “Mission Failed” text came up, I literally started at it for over a minute, mouth agape and heart-rate increasing. I just couldn’t believe it. This game loves to waste your time and test your patience, and despite how patient I actually am, I’m over it. I took Devil Summoner Overclocked out of my 3DS and tossed it back into my cartridge bag; now, if I was truly over it, I would have put the cartridge back in its case and then on the shelf to sit untouched for the remainder of days. But there’s a sick part of me. It’s hungry and demanding and greedy and covered in dirt. There’s a sickness within me, and this side still wants to see how things are supposed to go down (or one of five possibilities) before deeming the experience over. I mean, after thirty-seven hours am I just suppose to accept an early bad ending as the final say in this story? Especially now that I know what I’m supposed to do to “beat” the mission correctly.

I’ll try again, I will. Devil Summoner Overclocked and I just need some space, the kind you build after everything breaks down. I’ll end this fail-driven blog post by quoting Nick Hornby’s fail-driven High Fidelity, which I think does a good job of summing up this Day 6 battle set on the fringe of the lockdown that literally tore me apart: “What went wrong? Nothing and everything.”

My latest strategy for Devil Summoner Overclocked is more grinding

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Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Overclocked is a game I’ve been playing off and on now since Hurricane Irene hit way back in August 2011. And yet, according to my save slot, I’ve only logged around thirty-five hours. I suspect that I’ve played maybe six to seven–heck, possibly eight–more hours than that, as the game naturally doesn’t count time lost when you struggle through a 45-minute battle only to wipe in the end because the upswing in difficulty took you by surprise yet again.

It’s a really frustrating game that I, at the same time, enjoy a lot about. The voice acting, not counting Midori or most of Yuzu’s lines about demons and the government, is really good and helps keep me engaged in the somewhat stretched plot. You also get to make choices, the kind that do effect the story, determining who stays in your party and who doesn’t. So far, I’ve lost a few peeps who I won’t mention for those that care about spoilers. And the demon fusion, which can be a brainteaser at times, allows you to customize the demons in your party and level them up through cosmic breeding rather than gaining experience points (which takes longer). The heavy, distortion-based electronica tunes, few that there are, really rock and stick with you as you battle or re-arrange your team.

It’s just that the combat can feel at times grossly overwhelming and unfair. But combat’s how you proceed, and so you have to learn. Which I think I have over my thirty-five-plus hours playing the game, but the latest fight I’m stuck at suddenly pulls the rug out from under you at its very end, pointing a gnarled finger between your eyes and berating you for not grinding enough. Let me explain.

I’m actually pretty close to the end of Devil Summoner Overclocked. Well, I think. The 3DS version supposedly gets a bonus eighth day of action. Currently, P-San and his friends are nearing the end of Day Six, which is supposed to culminate with another big battle against some Bel-named demon. Belial, perhaps. Anyways, it is 4:30 PM, and the only options are a single free battle location or to advance the story with a Honda-related battle. This is my current sinkhole, stuck point, unbreakable wall–what have you. Basically, Honda and some friends are trying to escape the lockdown, and you have to decide to whether to assist or stop them, as well as siding with the demons or angels there to get in the way–or none of the above. The win/lose factors can change dramatically based on your choice here.

I can handle Honda and the two civs trying to escape just fine; the problem is that when you kill a team of either demons or angels–who will fight each other at times, too–a second version appears. The angel ones aren’t anything crazy difficult though they love using Recairn to bring back fallen friends. It’s the demons that ruin all my tactics, and I’m specifically talking about this frakker right here:

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That’s a Decarabia, the sixty-ninth spirit listed in the Goetia. Whatever that means. Regardless, this pentagram star is quite annoying, especially when the demon team consists of three of them. Why? Well, they love spamming the Shield All spell, which protects themselves from a single attack, and they seem to always do it right before my team gets to attack, thus wasting our entire turn. Secondly, they all have Fallen’s Mark, a racial skill that says if a Decarabia defeats an enemy, some HP and MP is restored to the entire team, based on the level of the defeated enemy. So, in short, they protect themselves from most damage I can do, and then when they off a supporting demon or main character, they restore a majority of their HP and MP. From what I can tell, the second spawnings of Decarabia are around level 48, and I’m able to take down them all save for the team made of three Decarabias. So, with P-San and fellow friends around 45/46 we have no choice but the grind. Unless there’s a strategy I’m missing.

I will beat Devil Summoner Overclocked. I will get P-San and his remaining friends out of the lockdown, for better or for worse. I will escape my own Decarabia-shaped lockdown, and then I too will be free.