Sunday, May 15, 2022

Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line (Nintendo Switch)

Three Luminaries Is Company

While Enix’s Dragon Quest, at the time of the original eight-bit entity’s localization known as Dragon Warrior, was my very first Japanese RPG, I oddly didn’t get around to playing any of its translated sequels until a few console generations later, but to me, they definitely emphasized the series’ tradition of security and steady evolution instead of doing things drastically different with each installment like the rival Final Fantasy franchise. Constant remakes would also be one of Dragon Quest’s chief traditions, with the first two entries commonly collected into one package, although their latest rerelease on the Nintendo Switch would be separate but still inexpensive. Does the franchise’s first sequel, Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line, hold up today?

The second series entry occurs a century after the first, the descendant of the legendary hero Erdrick and his love Princess Gwaelin of Tantegel traveling beyond their continent, their successors founding several kingdoms, among them being Moonbrooke, whose king is talking in the palace gardens with his daughter, one of the subtitular deuteragonists, when the forces of the evil wizard Hargon destroy the castle, a lone survivor traveling to Midenhall to inform its monarch of his homeland’s destruction, with the kingdom’s prince and namesake protagonist setting out in search of his cousins, the other being the remaining titular playable character, the Prince of Cannock, to put a stop to Hargon’s ambitions.

While one could argue Dragon Quest II is light on story, which it often admittedly is, it does still have one, but unlike in contemporary roleplaying games, the developers didn’t exactly force it down the player’s throat, and it serves as a reasonably-serviceable continuation of the saga of the legendary hero Erdrick and his descendants that forms the first three entries of the fabled franchise. Akin to the initial eight-bit incarnation, furthermore, the dialogue adopts a Shakespearean flair that serves the game well, with plentiful puns in regards to the enemy names, although there are occasional odd stylistic choices such as preceding most character names with adjectives, for instance, “foul Hargon.”

Players commence the second Dragon Quest with solely the Prince of Midenhall whom they name, and who is a pure physical fighter lacking any magical capability. Mercifully, however, early-game hell is minimal, with levels rising at a decent pace, and the acquisition of the Prince of Cannock, who is equally capable with offense and magic, somewhat making encounters more bearable for those with limited experience of the series. The third and final playable character, the Princess of Moonbrooke, is a poor physical fighter but an excellent magician, and throughout the game, the player’s party randomly encounters enemies that attempt to hinder their progress.

Dragon Quest II follows the traditional turn-based structure where the player inputs commands for each playable character, the Prince of Midenhall only able to attack with his equipped weapon, defend, use an item, or attempt escape (which of course won’t work all the time), although his cousins can cast MP-consuming magic spells. After the input of orders, the heroes and the enemy exchange actions, with the order of combat sometimes fluctuating yet typically depending upon units’ agility stats, following which, if neither side emerges victorious, another opportunity to give orders, the process repeating until all units on one side or the other are dead.

Should the player’s party vanquish their adversaries, each character still alive acquires experience for occasional leveling that yields increased stats and maybe a new magical spell in the case of the protagonist’s cousins, and as always, money to purchase new equipment and items from shops in towns. However, should the enemies win, the game teleports the player to the last town where they saved their game, with the Prince of Midenhall needing to pay a priest to resurrect his relatives alongside the penalty of half the gold held at the time. Mercifully, there exist within many towns banks where the player can safely deposit their money in thousand-gold increments, not to mention excess items that may lose their importance later on in the game.

Luminaries, furthermore, was one of the earliest Japanese RPGs to feature a minigame, in the sequel’s case tombola that requires special tickets sporadically acquired to play slots where the player must stop the reels and match icons for rewards such as special items that could actually be useful, especially in the case of prayer rings that grant magic-casting characters recovery of MP before ultimately breaking. Matching two reels provides the player another chance to play, with three different matches of icons stopping the game until they find more tickets to participate.

Other notable features include seeds that provide permanent increases in character stats, with their targets largely being obvious, such as those increasing strength on either prince, using MP-boosting ones on the Prince of Cannock or Princess of Moonbrooke, and so forth. The game mechanics generally work well in spite of their relative simplicity, with the pace of battles generally being quick aside from spells affecting multiple units doing so one at a time that somewhat bog things down, as does the frequent randomization of turn order. Offensive magic also frequently does no damage to certain foes, and quality-of-life features such as how much health enemies have left are absent, but otherwise, the sequel’s gameplay successfully abides by the mantra “Keep it simple, stupid.”

On the matter of quality-of-life aspects, Dragon Quest II does have a few things going for it such as the simplicity of the game menus, adjustable text speed, an in-game map of the overworld that displays the locations of both towns and dungeons, teleportation magic both to exit dungeons and travel among visited towns, a suspend save feature, being able to see how equipment increases or decreases stats before purchase, item and spell descriptions, and the like. However, there are issues such as the endless dialogue when shopping and performing hard saves of the game, not to mention NPCs occasionally getting in the way of the player’s party, a lack of in-game town and dungeon maps, and towns not always having all facilities such as banks, and in the end, interaction is middling.

As usual, however, composer Koichi Sugiyama did a superb job with the soundtrack, with plenty of solid tracks such as the Erdrick trilogy overture, the castle and town themes, both overworld tracks, the dungeon theme, and especially the sailing music “Beyond the Saves” that brings to mind Johann Strauss II’s “The Blue Danube,” the ending melody “My Road, My Journey” rounding out the musical presentation. Granted, there isn’t a change in battle music until the absolute final boss, and the franchise’s trademark digitized sound effects won’t resound well with everyone, but the sound as a whole is one of the sequel’s high points.

While certainly not the strongest of the series or Japanese RPGs as a whole, the visuals definitely have plenty going for them, such as the vibrant colors that serve environments and the character sprites well, although the former contain plentiful pixilation. In spite of inanimate enemies, however, the graphics are probably strongest in battle, with their respective environments and Akira Toriyama’s monster designs, despite many reskins, being surprisingly sharp without visible pixels. In the end, the second Dragon Quest is far from an eyesore.

Finally, the sequel is somewhat longer than its predecessor largely due to a larger world to explore, somewhere under twenty-four hours, although there isn’t much lasting appeal due to the absence of things such as sidequests and achievements.

On the whole, Dragon Quest II is very much a competent continuation of its predecessor, an evolution of the first game’s mechanics that never becomes overly-complicated, although admittedly, the relative simplicity of its mechanics will definitely off-put players who prefer convolution in their RPGs, and the second entry retains some of the dated user-unfriendliness of the franchise. Even so, however, it definitely has many positives such as the excellent translation, superb soundtrack, and visual presentation that at times shines. Those who prefer tradition and security in regards to roleplaying games will definitely appreciate the latest version of the series’ first sequel, but gamers who feel otherwise probably won’t.

This review is based on a playthrough to the ending of a copy digitally downloaded to the reviewer’s Nintendo Switch.

The Good:
+Simple but solid gameplay.
+Good continuation of the Erdrick saga.
+Superb localization.
+Excellent soundtrack.
+Akira Toriyama’s monster designs shine as always.

The Bad:
-Some randomization in combat.
-A little user-unfriendly.
-Story isn’t exactly deep.
-Visuals could have used more polish at points.
-Little lasting appeal.

The Bottom Line:
The best version of the game.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 7.5/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 7.5/10
Localization: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 7.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 3.0/10
Difficulty: Moderate
Playing Time: Less than 24 Hours

Overall: 7.0/10

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles

 Samurai Rabbit The Usagi Chronicles poster.jpg

Follows a descendant of the lapine Miyamoto Usagi from the Usagi Yojimbo comic book series in a semi-futuristic setting as he deals with various spiritual entities along with his friends. Fairly enjoyable, and I'd be interested in reading the comics.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

The fifth chronological Episode of the Star Wars franchise, second of the Original Trilogy, opens with the Rebel Alliance driven from their base on Yavin IV to the frozen planet of Hoth, with the Empire attempting to track them down, and Darth Vader particularly interested in Luke Skywalker, and given the iconic plot twist that’s been misquoted, imitated, and spoiled to death (which itself imitated a major plot twist in Frank Herbert’s Dune, played straighter in The Rise of Skywalker), it sort of brings to question why Obi-Wan, before his death, didn’t suggest that Luke not use his surname, although admittedly, Luke Skywalker is definitely a badass name.

The Empire succeeds in putting the Rebels on the run again in the battle on Hoth that follows, although it really seems they didn’t have the most intelligent designers when it came to its military technology, given the relative sluggishness of the Imperial Walkers across the snowy terrain, and there are other questionable plot decisions such as both sides of the war constantly forgetting that space is three-dimensional, with the Rebel Alliance facing the “problem” of getting past the Empire’s ships when they could have very easily just flown to another part of Hoth’s airspace and gotten away thence, given that we don’t see a whole lot of Imperial star destroyers above the planet.

The Force ghost of Ben tells Luke to find Yoda on Dagobah, mentioning that he was “the Jedi Master who instructed me,” which the prequel trilogy would contradict with Qui-Gon Jinn as Obi-Wan’s instructor then, and which the Legends timeline slightly rectified by noting that he trained under Yoda as a youngling before his apprenticeship to Qui-Gon, and the forthcoming series about Kenobi might fill in some of the holes the film series, as a whole, leaves. Luke does find Yoda on Dagobah and begins training, despite the diminutive Jedi’s insistence that training as part of the Order began at a young age.

There’s further a lack of indication as to how much time elapses during Luke’s training and Han Solo, together with Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and Threepio, aboard the Millennium Falcon, being chased by the Empire, given the ship’s disabled Hyperspace drive. They do find their way to the planet of Bespin, where Han rendezvouses with his old friend Lando Calrissian, and conflicts arise that ultimately result in Han’s carbonite freezing and being taken to Jabba the Hutt by enigmatic bounty hunter Boba Fett, a fate Darth Vader wishes upon Luke to take him to Galactic Emperor Sheev Palpatine.

And I think that during Vader’s initial conversation with his Sith Master, where he’s told Luke is Anakin Skywalker’s son, replacing the holo of the monkey-faced actress with Ian McDiarmid was a cosmetic change for the better. Luke continues his training on Dagobah, and, when he receives instruction enough in the Force, senses his friends are in danger on Bespin. Yoda warns him about the “dangers” of breaking from his training to go help his friends, but given the remainder of the events in the Original Trilogy, Luke actually did better than bad by doing so, given the recruitment of Lando into the Rebellion.

John Williams’ score is also notable, beginning with the main theme during the opening crawl, which combines elements from Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and Tchaikovsky’s “Marche Slave.” Darth Vader’s theme further sounds like a sped-up version of Chopin’s funeral dirge mixed with the Mars Movement of Gustav Holst’s The Planets suite. Other notable music includes the theme of the Cloud City of Bespin, and the soundtrack as a whole is definitely memorable, with that at the end, fusing elements from themes throughout the film, led me to watch them from start to end.

Han serves as comic relief as well, given things like how he addresses Leia and terms Threepio “the professor,” Solo and the Princess forming something of a romantic relationship. Leia, though, somewhat sucks at insults, given her notable “scruffy-looking nerf herder” line, when just stopping her at “Why you stuck-up, half-witted…” would have sufficed. Regardless, it’s definitely an iconic film, just as much so as A New Hope, but certainly does have its issues, and despite many considering it infallible today, it actually got “average” reviews after its original release, and I can understand. The film has definitely aged very well, though, doesn’t scream “1980,” and is like its precursor a bucket-list movie.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Commission by Ashlyn Englund (Not My Art)


The Last Olympian

The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #5)The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fifth and final installment of author Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series opens with the franchise’s eponymous protagonist, Perseus “Percy” Jackson, in his stepfather Paul Blofis’ car, with his pegasus Blackjack coming to take Percy on a mission to defeat the resurrected Titan Kronos. Percy regularly dreams throughout the book’s events, initially about battles in an underwater palace against the sea Titan Oceanus going poorly. He visits Camp Half-Blood, somewhat empty due to the war, and receives a prophecy that causes him to fear his death is imminent.

During the book, Percy receives the help of the hellhound Mrs. O’Leary, with the final chapter of the series regularly delving into Luke’s past, with Luke having become Kronos. A door into the Underworld Percy and his friends discover underneath Manhattan, with the party hoping to enlist the help of Hades in the war against the Titans, although the god of the Underworld quickly incarcerates Percy, and he ultimately dives back into battle, with Morpheus having put the city’s residents to sleep so they would be oblivious to the current war.

Several more battles conclude the book, along with a few important twists towards the end, with the last book in Riordan’s series generally being enjoyable, with plentiful mythological action alongside the aforementioned turns in the narrative, not to mention occasional self-aware humor. There are occasional stylistic choices with which I disagree such as not segregating Percy’s frequent dreams to separate divisions within each chapter, although I very much enjoyed the final Percy Jackson book, and would both gladly read other series occurring in the same universe by Riordan and recommend this particular entry to those who liked its precursors.

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Salt and Sanctuary


A Salty-Sweet Sidescrolling Soulslike

Let me begin this review by saying that I don’t really care much for FromSoftware’s Soulsborne games despite the adulation they’ve received among mainstream videogame journalists, largely due to what I perceive to be artificial difficulty, and actually liked the developer’s Enchanted Arms far more in spite of its more-critical reception. Thus, after my negative experiences with Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, I swore off ever giving the games another try, along with other action RPGs they would inspire such as Ska Studios’ Salt and Sanctuary, although given the game’s markedly-different style of gameplay, I figured maybe trying it out wouldn’t hurt, but does it fare any better?

Upon starting a new game, the player can select from a few initial classes, after which their character begins as a stowaway on a ship that eventually leaves him/her on the shores of a mysterious island comprised of dangerous locations from the world’s various continents. At first glance, one might consider the storytelling to be minimalist, although the lore is surprisingly intricate and never forced down the player’s throat, with most items and even the blurbs in the game’s skill tree having surprising depth and a few biblical analogies, and there is a choice of different creeds that affect the narrative. The main issues are the protagonist’s lack of development and the poor narrative direction, but otherwise, the plot is definitely a decent draw to the game.

Unlike the Soulsborne series, Salt and Sanctuary occurs in two dimensions and somewhat mimics the style of the Metroidvania genre, with the protagonist equippable with various pieces of equipment, a weapon, and a shield if able, with encounters against challenging foes frequently occurring, and the hero/heroine able to jump and attack them (doing so in the air will freeze them in the middle of their leap), earning the eponymous Salt, which serves as experience to the next level, upon successfully slaying antagonists. Players can use the aforementioned Salt in the titular Sanctuaries to level their character if they have enough.

Upon leveling, the player’s character receives a point they can use in a skill tree that combines elements from the tenth and twelfth Final Fantasies, with the access of certain nodes, many of which will require more than one point, necessary to equip various weapons, shields, and armor, with the endurance stat dictating their maximum equipment load that, when surpassed, will cause the hero or heroine to move slowly, and may affect their jumping power if they do come close to exceeding the limit. The development system very well accommodates different playstyles, with some quirks such as the eventual ability to one-hand two-handed weapons and still equip a shield without penalty.

As in the Soulsborne games, however, the protagonist’s defeat costs the player all Salt they’ve acquired and sends them back to the last Sanctuary at which they recovered at a slight monetary cost (around a tenth of their money, in my experience), but the chance to regain the lost experience if they defeat the foe that “Obliterated” (to use the game’s death equivalent of the Soulsborne series’ YOU DIED) the player, and if death came as a result of a long fall, a winged entity materializes that the hero or heroine must vanquish. Like the games that inspired Salt and Sanctuary, however, death again will cost players all the Salt that had gained before.

There are other elements of the game mechanics to consider such as prayers and magic that require the activation of specific tree skill nodes to use, along with a dodge roll (which, like regular attacks, necessitates stamina that recovers during inaction) and the eventual ability to dash in midair, which gives the game a Metroidvania feel given its aid in exploration. The gameplay is surprisingly good, with the Soulsborne formula seeming to work better in two rather than three dimensions, although the difficulty will definitely off-put many, given plenty tricky enemies and bosses and the potential to spend a while acquiring Salt and possibly lose it due to frequent death, but while the challenge level is above-average, Salt and Sanctuary certainly isn’t nearly as difficult as many games from generations past such as say, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.

On the matter of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda series, though, Salt and Sanctuary lacks many quality-of-life features such as that particular franchise’s ability to pause the game and eventual in-game maps, which may at many points drive players to reference the internet, and there exist other issues such as the inability to view numerical Salt to the next level, only being able to view in-game playtime from the start menu, and some tricky level design, but the general controls definitely aren’t terrible, and there are positives such as a monster compendium, the controller rumble, and the like that largely prevent a descent into total user-unfriendliness.

One other negative aspect Salt and Sanctuary bequeaths from the Soulsborne series, however, is its largely-minimalist musical presentation, given the overreliance of ambience throughout exploration and the presence of music only in Sanctuaries, maybe one or two areas, and boss battles, but what soundtrack does exist is decent, despite a few tracks such as the rock pieces seeming slightly out-of-place in the game, although the sound effects and instrumentation serve the Soulslike decently.

The visuals serve the game better, with a nice hand-drawn style where monochrome shades and tings largely dominate, the enemy and player/nonplayer character designs looking nice in spite of the oddity of frog-mouthed characters, and the camera being decent and controllable during gameplay, but one issue is that battles against certain foes can occur in transitional points between areas and at times leave players blind.

Finally, a single playthrough will take players between twenty-four to forty-eight hours, with a semblance of lasting appeal in the form of a New Game+, different starting classes, and various creeds to follow, although the above-average difficulty will definitely deter many from devoting additional time to the game.

Overall, coming from someone who doesn’t care much for the Soulsborne games, Salt and Sanctuary was a welcome surprise, given the fairer implementation of that franchise’s formula in two rather than three dimensions, the surprisingly-deep lore, and nice visual presentation. However, it does have significant issues, starting with the fact that its above-average challenge level will definitely off-put many players, the absence of a few quality-of-life issues including pausing and in-game maps, and the minimalist musical presentation. It definitely is a good game, although given that it’s certainly not perfect, I’ll probably hold off on its sequel Salt and Sacrifice until good maps and maybe guides appear on the internet.

This review is based on a single playthrough of a digital copy downloaded to the reviewer’s PlayStation 4, starting as a paladin to the ending with 71% of all Trophies acquired.

The Good:
+Soulsborne formula works better in 2D than 3D.
+Intricate lore.
+Nice visual presentation.

The Bad:
-Difficulty will definitely off-put many.
-Lacks quality-of-life features such as maps and pausing.
-Minimalist musical presentation.

The Bottom Line:
A surprisingly-good Soulslike slightly more accessible than the Soulsborne games.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 7.5/10
Controls: 6.5/10
Story: 7.5/10
Music/Sound: 7.5/10
Graphics: 8.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 7.5/10
Difficulty: Moderate to Hard
Playing Time: 24-48 Hours

Overall: 7.5/10

Green Eggs and Ham (Netflix series)

 Green Eggs And Ham (TV Series).jpg

A (very) loose adaptation of the Dr. Seuss book, where Sam-I-Am serves as an environmental activist trying to save the endangered Chickeraffe from captivity by an executive, whilst trying to get fledgling inventor Guy-Am-I, voiced by Michael Douglas, to try the titular meal. The second season has elements from The Butter Battle Book where two enemy nations quarrel over whether to butter toast on the top or bottom, and is an homage to the James Bond movies, and there's even a reference to Game of Thrones. Very enjoyable, and there's definitely something for different audiences.