Sunday, November 28, 2021

Gaming Update, 11/28/2021

Currently Playing

Pokémon Shining Pearl - Another loaner from my younger brother. The original version ended my Pokémon virginity, and the remake is definitely much-improved, given that all Pokémon in your party gain experience from leveling when you kill an opponent Pokémon, and I'm at Oreburgh City, ready to face the gym.

Slime Forest Adventure - A bit of an odd duck. Another Japanese-learning RPG with 8-bit overworld and dungeon visuals, although the battle graphics are a bit of a step up, and you have to type in the meanings, readings, and whatnot of whatever Japanese characters your mostly-slime opponents speak. Don't particularly care much for the total absence of music, and there is a bit of a learning curve (luckily, in-game tutorials are available), but I'll press on. I just rescued the princess and have gotten to a desert island where I've been grinding and learning on the overworld, since part of the game's challenge is that enemies in dungeons don't show you correct answers.

In My Backlog

Baldur's Gate & Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Editions - On hold again due to my younger brother having lent me Shining Pearl.

Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress - Low priority right now, and when I do finally pick it up I'll try to seek patches on the internet and apply them so I don't encounter the same issues again with reloading my past save.

Ultima III: Exodus - Will, of course, only play after I beat the second game.

Star Ocean: First Departure R

Star Trek: The RPG

Once upon a time, I played the original Super Famicom version of developer tri-Ace’s first production, Star Ocean, via a fan translation, and while I did enjoy what time I spent with it, there were a multitude of issues that made it feel like an Obvious Beta, such as many glitches largely involving its item creation system and a secret character hidden in the code. An enhanced remake for the PlayStation Portable, First Departure, would resolve many of the issues affiliated with the Super Famicom iteration, and around two generations later afterward would it receive a remaster for the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 consoles (the latter version this review covers) entitled Star Ocean: First Departure R, which has some new content, but is generally the same improved experience as it was on Sony’s first portable system.

In a nice break from most science-fiction stories, R tells its largely initially through the perspective of its intelligent alien creatures, in its case a few Fellpool teenagers on the planet Roak, basically humanoid with pointed elven ears and monkey-like tails, a little, but not exactly like, the Genomes (protagonist Zidane’s race) in Final Fantasy IX. Hero Roddick Farrence, with his cohorts Millie Kliette and Dorne Murtough, go on patrol in their hometown, after which they receive notice that a nearby community is suffering a plague that petrifies, but doesn’t kill, those it infects. Visiting a nearby mountain, they encounter two humans, the starship Captain Ronyx J. Kenny and his first mate Ilia Silvestri (parents of one of the sequel’s main heroes, Claude C. Kenny), with all characters determined to find a cure for the ailment that ultimately plagues and turns Dorne to stone.

Unfortunately, the host of the disease, Asmodeus, exists several centuries in the past, prompting the healthy humans and Fellpools to visit the planet Styx, where a time gate exists that sends, but separates them, to Roak in the past during Asmodeus’s time, where they seek to reunite and encounter an excellent character cast that includes a winged warlock and his sorcerous sister, a lycanthrope martial artist, and so forth, four mandatory characters and only four of the optional characters recruitable, with different story scenes depending upon whom the player recruits, and dozens of variations on several different endings satisfactorily concluding the narrative.

The story, however, certainly isn’t shy of its Star Trek influences, R’s Underdeveloped Planet Preservation Pact (UP3) very much mirroring Trek’s Prime Directive, and time travel isn’t exactly a novel concept, being ever prevalent in previous games such as Chrono Trigger and Tales of Phantasia (with some of that particular title’s staff having founded developer tri-Ace), and several other non-gaming media such as movies and television. Furthermore, there isn’t too much time spent in the franchise’s eponymous Star Ocean, most playtime spent on developing worlds, although the good in the plot very much outweighs the bad, and the narrative in the end is very much a nice diversion from the typical fantastical Japanese roleplaying game norm.

The localization is definitely more than adequate, given legible dialogue, virtually no spelling or grammatical errors, and a good naming convention for the various characters belonging to different races, although there are a few issues such as there being no fathomable reason, except alcohol, why anyone would think it natural for people to shout the names of their special skills in combat (it may sound really cool in Japanese, but just doesn’t work in English), some redundant combat dialogue, inconsistent naming in the closing credits, and a censored cross (its horizontal portion missing) appearing whenever a magician casts the Cure-All skill in battle.

Fortunately, solid gameplay backs the narrative experience, with randomly-encountered real-time battles where the player controls one character (preferably Roddick), while the AI controls the other three participants, although luckily, the player can switch control among the maximum four battlers. If controlling a melee character such as Roddick, the player outside combat can assign two MP-consuming skills to the L1 and R1 buttons for easy execution, or have them attack with standard physical assaults, with an option of automatic or semiauto targeting, in the latter case where the player can press the square button to change targets among antagonists, helpful in instances such as the encounter of spellcasting enemies that can easily decimate the player’s active party.

Eradicating all adversaries nets all participants the currency Fol and experience for occasional leveling, with the acquisition of higher levels earning characters skill points they can invest into personal skills outside combat (with new ones acquired from special facilities in towns), although players will likely want to hold off on doing so until they acquire the Determination skill, which reduces the costs of these active and innate abilities that can dictate things such as how much experience is necessary to obtain the next level, stats such as attack power, casting time for magic spells, effectiveness of how attempts at item creation fare, and so forth.

Much akin to the Super Famicom and PlayStation Portable versions, R has a deep item creation system that the latter iteration refined with plenty ideas from its sequel’s similar mechanics, with characters having the potential to acquire new talents, which dictate how effective they are at certain kinds of synthesis (especially if the player uses the Orchestra Super Specialty), and so forth. In fact, becoming effective with the item creation system is almost necessary to having an easier time with the game, given the potential to acquire some powerful weapons and equipment, the latter even granting the possibility to receive healing instead of damage from the potentially tough-as-nails final boss’s abilities.

The battle system generally flows well, given the potential quick pace in combat, aside from the unskippable magic spell animations (although the flow of combat receives no interruption from melee characters’ physical abilities), although there are a few cheap enemies, namely the magician foes that can easily decimate the player’s characters and lead to easy game overs (with no opportunities to restart the lost battle and needing to reload a previous save), with one particularly-tough boss fight in an optional dungeon occurring without a nearby save point, otherwise rarely with iffy placement. The AI is also occasionally inconsistent in terms of effectiveness, but regardless, the gameplay shines.

R is for the most part a user-friendly game, with plentiful positives such as largely-clear direction on how to advance the central storyline through exiting a town during a Private Action session (though there were occasions where I had to reference the internet to discover things such as the secret entrance to one dungeon and an extra dungeon where I could ditch one character for a certain replacement), the ability to tell whether equipment from a shop increased or decreased character stats, an “equipment wizard” that automatically outfits characters with the best gear the player owns, being able to buy different item types simultaneously, and so forth.

However, while there is easy conveyance among harbor towns on Roak, there unfortunately isn’t a universal fast-travel option, which can really necessitate long treks to inland towns or revisit certain dungeons, in the former case especially if the player wants to perform Private Actions in said settlements so that they can have some influence on which character endings they receive. There are also no maps for the dungeons, a few areas unindicated on the overworld map, some iffy placement of save points at times, unskippable cutscenes (though text speed is adjustable and most voicework players can cut short if they would rather read than listen), and no pausing during the ending, and ultimately, there are a few kinks in interaction the developers could have worked out.

The sound is another one of the game’s strongest points, being an early effort by composer Motoi Sakuraba, with plenty of nice, catchy town tracks, rockin’ battle themes, good cutscene music, fitting sound effects, and a choice of three different voicework tracks: the English version, although its quality is somewhat inconsistent, especially in battle; the original First Departure’s Japanese voices; and new Nipponese voice acting on part of the cast of the original Super Famicom iteration’s performers.

The visuals took a cue from the first Star Ocean sequel, with pretty prerendered environments and two-dimensional character sprites that increase or decrease in size depending upon how “close” or “far” they are to the player in a particular area, battles utilizing the same sprites, with great emotion and animation on part of both the character and enemy sides of combat, plentiful feelings such as laughter expressed outside encounters as well, along with pretty anime cutscenes. There’s even a choice of new character portraits during cutscenes somewhat resemblant of the original Super Famicom version’s artwork, though these don’t change the style of the anime scenes and aren’t fully consistent with the spritework. Moreover, there are issues regarding the many palette-swapped enemies and occasional pixilation of the spritework and overworld environments, and while the graphics are generally good, there are quite a few rough spots.

Finally, R is just right in terms of length, potentially taking one as little as twenty hours to make a straightforward run of the game, although things such as sidequests, playing with item creation, and a postgame dungeon potentially boosting playtime to around thirty hours. However, things such as acquiring all PlayStation Trophies, collecting all voice clips for a main menu selection that becomes available after completing the game at least once, a post-game dungeon, messing around with different recruitable characters during subsequent playthroughs, sidequests, and so forth, can very easily prolong playtime, although there are a few hindrances to going through the game again such as unskippable cutscenes and no New Game+.

In summation, Star Ocean: First Departure R is for the most part a great remaster of a remake that itself had resolved some of the issues associated with the original Super Famicom version such as its various glitches and Dummied Out content. The great game mechanics one can easily “git gud” at, the controls are generally tight, the storyline is engaging with a great cast and potential variations, the soundtrack is pleasant alongside three different voicework versions, the graphics are decent with two alternative forms of anime designs, and there’s plenty to keep players coming back for more. However, those who don’t especially exploit certain aspects of the mechanics may have a hard time, fast-travel is limited at points, there’s not nearly enough time spent in outer space, the localization and graphics have a few rough edges, and there’s no New Game+ alongside the already above-average lasting appeal. Regardless, those new to the series will relish the chance to soar into the slowly-but-surely expanding Star Ocean universe.

This review is based on a singular playthrough to the standard ending of a copy digitally downloaded to the owner’s PlayStation 4, with 34% of all Trophies acquired.

The Good:
+Great game mechanics you can “git gud” at.
+Good control.
+Solid storyline with variable endings.
+Nice soundtrack and three flavors of voicework.
+Decent visuals with different portrait styles.
+Plenty to keep players coming back for more.

The Bad:
-May be a little hard for some.
-Limited fast-travel options.
-Not enough time spent in titular Star Ocean.
-Localization a little rough around the edges.
-Same for the graphics.
-No New Game+.

The Bottom Line:
A great remaster of a remake that largely fixed the Super Famicom version’s issues.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 9.0/10
Controls: 8.0/10
Story: 9.0/10
Localization: 7.0/10
Music/Sound: 9.0/10
Graphics: 7.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 8.0/10
Difficulty: Variable
Playing Time: 20-80 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

Saturday, November 27, 2021

(Semi-Weekly) Art by Me, 11/27/2021




Netflix film that's largely the brainchild of three writers from The Simpsons and the director of The Simpsons Movie, though luckily it's devoid of the things that led me to stop watching the show ages ago (and I'm perfectly content without seeing the movie at all). It follows two mammalian creatures with donut holes, Op and Ed, their species known as the Flummels, in the time of Charles Darwin when he's en route to the Galápagos Islands, with a time travel flower leading them to contemporary Shanghai, where they discover their eventual extinction, and thus go on an adventure through time to try to prevent that from happening. Actually a pretty cute and funny film, with a good musical number as well, that I definitely wouldn't hesitate recommending to those who subscribe to its respective streaming service.

Friday, November 26, 2021


Monastery Resident Evil

The videogame genre of survival horror saw its inception with the original Japanese release in 1996 of the PlayStation game Resident Evil, itself influenced by games from prior generations such as Sweet Home, primarily with the intent to frighten characters through their ambience and tension. The concept would worm its way into other game genres such as RPGs, a notable example being Parasite Eve by Square, and one of the company’s former employees, Hiroki Kikuta, known for his compositions for Secret of Mana and sequel Trials of Mana, spearheaded a similar contribution to the concept of the fusion of RPGs and survival horror, entitled Koudelka, developed by Sacnoth, published by SNK in Japan, and released internationally by Infogrames, no stranger to RPGs given prior roleplaying productions Drakkhen and Dragon View. Is it a good contribution to the hybrid subgenre?

Koudelka begins with the eponymous Romani gypsy, Koudelka Iasant, who visits the alleged haunted Nemeton Monastery in Wales, and encounters adventurer Edward Plunkett and Catholic Bishop James O’Flaherty, who unravel the violent history of the castle, and meets some of its living but inhospitable inhabitants along the way, along with plentiful spirits of the deceased. The story has a few decent ideas, with some backstory on the manor and various characters along the way, although one could very well describe the game as a Resident Evil occurring a few years before the turn of the twentieth century. There’s also horrible direction on how to advance the main storyline, and the plot in the end never reaches excellence.

There is plentiful voiced dialogue in the game, although there are unfortunately no subtitles, sure to turn off hearing-impaired gamers, and while most of what little text exists is legible, there are occasional errors, mainly during the closing credits, and some of the lines come across as hammy at times. Many of the names of items such as weapons and armor also contain some one-letter compressions of whatever full words compose their names, with little explanation given as to what type of equipment they actually are, and ultimately, the localization never reaches excellence.

One could say the same of the central game mechanics, with a relatively low encounter rate, Koudelka and her two male allies squaring off against at most three foes on a grid-based battlefield in whatever formation they establish in the game menus. Each character, when they reach their turn, can move around the battlefield (although similar to the original Final Fantasy Tactics and its War of the Lions remix, the player can’t undo movement), attack with equipped weapons occasionally gained from random enemy drops or occasionally treasure at various points within Nemeton, wait for their next turn, use a consumable item (with the same rules of random drops or monastery treasure applying), use MP-consuming magic spells, or attempt to escape, this option naturally not working all the time.

Successful and repeated use of weapons and magic grants a character points for occasional powerups akin to Secret of Mana, although weapons may break after excessive use, unfortunately with no indicators as to how close weapons are to breaking, and weapons can very well be in finite supply, given how the random number gods play out. Moreover, while magic spells have charge times, there is no telling when spells will eventually execute, and a turn order meter showing things like this would have definitely been welcome, with a few enemies sometimes receiving more turns than the player’s characters. Battles in general also have a relatively glacial pace with regards to the execution of attacks and spells, not to mention the death of enemies and disappearance from the battlefield, with an unceremonious game over if the player’s guide and victory should the player eliminate every foe.

One positive aspect, however, is that experience levels, points gained for every character who was still alive in the completed battle, tend to rise quickly, with occasions where they might gain multiple levels, especially against harder antagonists. Upon leveling, a character gains four points the player can invest into various stats such as strength, vitality, dexterity, agility, intelligence, piety, mind, and luck. Strength determines attack power, with the game itself encouraging players to invest equal points in dexterity, which determines offensive accuracy. Vitality determines hit points, agility combat speed, piety maximum magic points, and luck determining things such as random drops from combat. Finally, intelligence determines magical attack power, Koudelka further suggesting the player applies equal points to mind, which decides magical accuracy.

Leveling also fully restores a character’s health and magic points, with the use of permanent save points, unlocked mostly through completing boss battles (which may also yield additional magic spells), restoring both as well. Available as well in certain chambers of the monastery are “temporary” save points that the player can save only to a single memory card slot (although these luckily don’t delete upon loading), the mentioned holy water save points largely gained from beating bosses the player can use in multiple save slots. Other things to keep in mind before playing the game include the absence of scan magic to see enemy strengths and weaknesses (with some weapons and magic healing instead of damaging enemies, depending upon their elements), and that during a significant stretch on the third disc, Koudelka has to fight alone when separated from her allies.

Generally, the gameplay doesn’t work nearly as good as it could have, given the various issues such as the ratchet movement in battle, the general lack of availability of weapons and armor (given that both have relatively low drop rates), the finite inventory space (with most consumables, weapon, and armor having some decent redeeming aspects), the fragility of weapons with no indicator as to how long they have to last, some lopsided difficulty at times, the absence of scan magic and need to use a guide if having trouble to discern the strengths and weaknesses of many enemies, the lack of a turn order gauge in combat, the glacial pacing of enemy encounters, and so forth. There are some positive aspects such as the building of weapon and spell levels being meaningful, the full restoration of characters upon leveling, the above-average frequency of gaining levels, among a few other things, but all in all the game mechanics don’t work as great as they could have.

Easily the most terrifying aspect of Koudelka is its control. While there is an in-game clock, easily-navigable menus, and frequent save opportunities, there are issues that bring things down. Weird default controls? Check. Wonky character movement including button-mashing to traverse stairs and ladders? Check. No auto-dash? Check. No in-game maps early on? Check. Some horrid disc transitions without save opportunities? Check. Some annoying puzzles necessitating referencing the internet and/or taking notes? Check. Limited inventory with no place to store excess items? Check. Doors, stairs, and ladders not always being obvious? Check. A few points of no return? Check. The negative aspects in general just vastly outweigh the good, and the game strays far from the realm of user-friendliness.

Sound is one of the game’s more positive aspects, but that’s not saying much. What little cutscene and FMV music exists is okay yet unmemorable, but the main battle theme and final boss tracks have some memorability. However, the normal boss tune sounds off-key, and during the great amount of standard exploration, there is no music, mostly ambience. There is voice acting during cutscenes, which is okay for the most part, although there is much hammy dialogue, and while the characters are allegedly ethnic, they certainly don’t sound like their respective nationalities and come across as ethnically-vague. In the end, the sound of Koudelka is, for the most part, nothing to write home about.

The visuals are another of the game’s better aspects, though again, that’s not saying much. There is plentiful prerendered scenery that very well conveys the dark tone of Koudelka, although things such as doors, ladders, and stairs don’t have explicit indication. The character models look okay in and out of battle, if a little blocky and pixilated, although the scenery in combat consists only of a pixel-laden floor in dark blue space (though the enemy design is reasonably macabre and devoid of reskins). Still, the character models show no indicators of lip movement or expression other than flailing around. Perhaps the high point of the graphics are the FMVs liberally strewn throughout the game’s four discs, but ultimately, the visual aspect is for the most part nothing nobody’s seen before.

Finally, the game is relatively short, around twelve hours minimum to get through, although less-lucky players may need to spend up to sixteen. Despite the low playtime, there isn’t much motivation to go through the game again, given its rather lackluster disposition, ability to perform all sidequests and see all endings in one playthrough, and no New Game+ or story variations.

Overall, Koudelka was definitely one of the far-weaker contributors to the hybrid of roleplaying games and survivor horror, given its deeply-flawed game mechanics, loose control, average storyline, lackluster localization, mediocre aural and visual presentation, and the lack of any real reason to go through again, underclassing even the grayer contributions to the genre fusion such as the original Parasite Eve. Adding insult to injury is that physical copies are nigh-impossible to find in reasonable condition at acceptable price, with the game nonexistent within the digital world except in emulation, and besides the links to its sequel series Shadow Hearts, there’s really no point to try tracking the game down, purchasing, or playing it.

The Good:
+Story is okay.
+Some of the music as well.
+Many decent FMVs.

The Bad:
-Glacial combat pacing.
-Loose control with annoying puzzles.
-Terrible plot direction.
-Lackluster localization.
-Little memorable soundtrack.
-Graphics a bit dark.
-No lasting appeal.

The Bottom Line:
There were better PlayStation games in its time.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation
Game Mechanics: 2.5/10
Controls: 1.5/10
Story: 5.0/10
Localization: 3.0/10
Music/Sound: 4.5/10
Graphics: 4.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 0.0/10
Difficulty: Moderate
Playing Time: 12-16 Hours

Overall: 3.0/10

Art by Lukaryo


Thursday, November 25, 2021

The Messenger

The Messenger (The Messenger #1)The Messenger by J.N. Chaney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first installment of J.N. Chaney and Terry Maggert’s Messenger science-fiction series opens with protagonist Newton Sawyer, nicknamed and mostly referred to as Dash throughout the novel’s course, perusing the Needs Slate, a listing of errands throughout the known galaxy. Dash is a bit of an alcoholic, and wants to revisit unSpace, helpful in traversing lengthy distances across the galaxy, with his ship the Slipwing, which ultimately encounters battle. Dash lands on the frontier world of Penumbra, leaving just as quickly as he arrives, with new adversaries, the zealously-religious Clan Shirna, coming to mind.

Dash soon commandeers a different vessel, the Halfwing, which a capital ship chases and renders derelict. He has a near-death experience that involves his pursuit of a light, after which he hears an ethereal feminine voice from an A.I. known as the Sentinel, who refers to him as the eponymous Messenger, who becomes the pilot of the mech called the Archetype. In his acquired mech, Dash is able to see details of unSpace he hadn’t noticed before, with the ending chapters launching him into battle with Clan Shirna, the epilogue seeing him back with his crew of the Slipwing, where he vows to prevent war at all costs.

Overall, the first entry of Chaney and Maggert’s sci-fi literary franchise is definitely enjoyable, and a good contributor to the mecha subdivision of the genre, which I definitely appreciated given my experience with science-fiction-themed videogames that have had similar emphases upon giant mechs, titles such as the Xenosaga games coming to mind, especially given the book’s religious overtones. Granted, its similarities to said videogame titles is its primary weakness, although it does do a decent job standing apart from other science-fiction book series occurring in our own universe, and I recommend it for audiences seeking something (mostly) different in the genre.

View all my reviews

Saturday, November 20, 2021

New Spring

 New Spring (The Wheel of Time, #0)

New Spring by Robert Jordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first and only Wheel of Time prequel novel by the late Robert Jordan opens with one of the primary protagonists, al’Lan Mandragoran, son of el’Leanna and al’Akir, on a cold battlefield against the Aiel, wielding a blade once used by Malkieri monarchs. When the nation of Malkier died, twenty men bore the responsibility of bearing the infant Lan to safety, with only five surviving the journey, among them being Bukama Maranellin, champion of Salmarna. As a babe, Lan received four gifts: a ring he still dons, a locket he wears over his neck with portraits of his parents, his sword, and an oath sworn in his name.

The main reason for the battle against the Aiel is their supposed allegiance to an ancient evil known as the Dark One, which alongside his servants, the Forsaken, bound in Shayol Ghul. Before the novel’s events, the Aiel had further wrought havoc in the nation of Cairhien, going as far as the island city of Tar Valon, which bears the tallest structure in the known world, the White Tower, home to an order of magicians known as the Aes Sedai. In the building itself, an Accepted, an Aes Sedai candidate, named Moiraine Damodred, is aware of the conflict, with her uncle allegedly starting it yet receiving no further apparent mention throughout the story.

Tamra and Gitara Moroso are the only two actual Aes Sedai in the Tower at the moment, with most busy on the battle field granting their powers of Healing to injured soldiers. The latter ultimately proclaims the Dragon, a legendary hero of shorts, to be reborn on Dragonmount, with many infants throughout the narrative regarded as candidates for the fated position. Moiraine soon departs the White Tower in search of the true Dragon Reborn, with the Aiel in the meanwhile retreating from battle.

Moiraine eventually returns to the Tower to take the tests necessary to become a true Aes Sedai, and passes, choosing the Blue Ajah among the many different symbolically-colored Ajahs, orders of the Aes Sedai with special qualities, some having protectors known as Warders. Meanwhile, Lan wishes to have nothing to do with the Aes Sedai, although his and Moiraine’s paths ultimately intersect, with the sorceress going by the alias of Lady Alys. Furthermore, a member of the forbidden Black Ajah is suspected in many events throughout the story, such as various character deaths.

The action of the prequel story concludes in the city of Chachin, with a battle against the suspected Black Ajah, Merean. The epilogue indicates a period of mourning and potential genocide against male channelers of the One True Power (with its male half, the saidin, tainted by the Dark One), although there is light amidst the darkness, as Moiraine wishes Lan to be her Warder, setting the stage for the main series. Overall, this is a surprisingly enjoyable prelude to the main Wheel of Time stories, although there is obvious inspiration drawn from the Star Wars franchise. Even so, it proves a good diving board into the more verbose entries of the fabled literary franchise.

View all my reviews

The Addams Family (2019)


The film opens with the marriage of Gomez and Morticia, who ultimately move to a former asylum in New Jersey, where they still continue to be ostracized once they actually start a family, with a home makeover show host trying to "improve" their home and lifestyle. Most of its humor is dark (of course, though not as much as, say, South Park or even The Simpsons), although pretty much the only truly scary part of the film is the MGM logo.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Gaming Update, 11/19/2021

Currently Playing

Koudelka - Exploring a little, gaining some levels along the way.

Star Ocean: First Departure R - I just got to the past with Roddick and Ilia.


Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition & Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition - Likely will start unless my younger brother loans me another Switch game.

Slime Forest Adventure - Will be my next PC game.

Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress - Low priority right now.

Ultima III: Exodus - Likewise.

Shin Megami Tensei - Persona 2: Innocent Sin Review

Tatsuya Suou and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

The PlayStation title Revelations: Persona was one of the first entries of Atlus’s Megami Tensei series that saw an English localization, albeit through a cut-and-paste effort that often very poorly attempted to cover the game’s Japanese origin and setting. It would ultimately receive a more faithful translation when the game saw a port to the PlayStation Portable, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona. Due to controversial content, the first half of the game’s sequel on the PlayStation, Shin Megami Tensei – Persona 2: Innocent Sin, Atlus’s North American branch passed over for localization, although the second half, Eternal Punishment, they did translate. Luckily, the first half would see a translation after coming to the PlayStation Portable, being an ideal way to experience the classic.

The main “controversial” content is one of the main antagonists being a certain Austrian-born despot and his followers, given sunglasses and titled as “Fuhrer”. The main protagonist is the silent high-schooler Tatsuya Suou, who joins with allies to make pacts with demons across the suburbs of Tokyo, ultimately encountering MacGuffins in the form of elemental crystal skulls. Most of the main characters and notable NPCs do get descriptions when introduced saying who they are, and the plot has very mature themes, but there are issues such as passers-by within the dungeons being unaware of the demons inhabiting their areas, not to mention occasional vagueness in where to go to next in order to advance the main storyline.

The translation is a bit of an average effort, with some terrible names such as one school having the nickname of “Cuss High”, and Japanese honorifics left in the English text that mainstream gamers wouldn’t understand (and in-game explanation as to their meanings would have been nice for those not versed in the language). There are also occasional misleading ability descriptions, although the text itself is largely coherent, with some occasional mature profanity showing the script’s mature tone. Even so, the localization team could have made a better effort.

The primary game mechanics, however, do have plenty of things going for them, with battles being turn-based and randomly-encountered, an indicator gradually turning red indicating how close Tatsuya and his party are to encountering enemies, largely sparing the tedium associated with random encounters. Fights pit the party of up to five characters against several demons, with several options available for battle or negotiation. Each character can equip one of the game’s eponymous Personas, with standard attacks with equipped weapons available, along with using one of their Persona’s SP-consuming skills, their costs being fixed for all of a spirit’s particular skills.

Using a particular Persona’s skills will gradually cause it to increase in rank, which can allow for new abilities to become usable, with up to eight ranks per Persona. The player’s characters can also parley with the enemies with various conversation skills. An enemy mood square appears during conversation, with eager, happy, sad, or angry quadrants, where getting the eager option three times allows for the collection of tarot cards, and getting them happy allows a pact to be formed where the player can get tarot cards and “free cards” that can take on any arcana in the Velvet Room, or various items should the player get a monster happy again in a future battle.

Players will obviously want to avoid angering an enemy or making it sad, given their potential to break their pact if upset, and the player can only have up to three pacts at any given time. Of course, the player can of course engage in standard combat with them, giving characters commands, a turn order gauge showing who will go when, with each side executing their attacks. Eliminating all enemies naturally wins the battle for the player, and all the player’s characters dying means a Game Over, although luckily, players can record their progress most anywhere outside combat, largely reducing wasted playtime as a result of dying.

Players may occasionally become able to perform fusion spells with multiple Persona abilities that are of course more powerful than standard skills, and outside battle, they can visit the Velvet Room to obtain new Personas with whatever tarot cards they have received from battle. There are some interesting mechanics here such as the ability to “return” Personas with maxed ranks for items, and each character has a certain affinity with various arcana that may dictate skill cost. The battle system mostly works well, players also able to skip ability animations in combat for easier grinding and progress, although conversation with enemies can be difficult without a guide, and adversary personalities dictating how they react to contact options can be odd at times.

Aside from the save-mostly-anywhere feature, some areas of control aren’t exactly at their best, with a noticeable lack of features such as an equip-best option for character equipment, although they can purchase different types of items at once in bulk when shopping, how equipment increases and decreases stats before purchase being visible, and dungeons having automaps that make for mostly-easy progress. However, there are occasional points of no returns and loss of access to many dungeons upon completion, and while players can skip through text, there are some areas where they can’t, with cutscenes themselves not being wholly skippable. The game could have interacted better with players, although things aren’t too bad.

The soundtrack is easily the high point of the game, with plenty of good music such as the battle themes and the Velvet Room music with some classical music played after the main theme of the chamber finishes. There are some occasional tracks that rely a bit too much on ambience, and the quality of the voicework isn’t always consistent, but Innocent Sin mostly sounds good.

The visuals also look mostly decent, with the character sprites containing good anatomy alongside the enemy designs in combat, although there are occasional reskins on their part, and the actual battle scenery is somewhat lazy, akin to Earthbound with psychedelic aspects and minimalist scenery. The Persona ability animations look good as well, and are luckily skippable, and there are some good aspects of the environments outside battle with a few nice three-dimensional effects. All in all, the game largely looks good.

Finally, the game is somewhat lengthy, with a straightforward playthrough taking around forty-eight hours, although playing time can very well extend to seventy-two and beyond, with supplemental playtime largely due to ranking up Personas and accessing a postgame dungeon.

Overall, Innocent Sin is mostly an improved sequel, given the good within its game mechanics, save-mostly-anywhere feature, some decent story beats, a good soundtrack, and some pretty areas of its graphics. Regardless, it does have many issues regarding things such as the difficulty of the contact system without use of a guide, the spotty localization, the loss of access to most dungeons after completion, the poor direction at many times on how to advance the central storyline, the inconsistent voicework quality, and some weak areas of the visuals. It’s also not as nearly accessible as the third numbered entry and beyond, but still has plenty positives and is worth a look, if nothing more.

The Good:
+Some good mechanics.
+Save-mostly-anywhere feature.
+A few good story beats.
+Great soundtrack.
+Some nice parts of the visuals.

The Bad:
-Conversation system can be difficult without a guide.
-Some weak direction on how to advance.
-Inconsistent localization quality.
-Some poor voices.
-A bit long.

The Bottom Line:
Not as accessible as the third numbered entry and beyond, but has some good aspects.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Game Mechanics: 7.0/10
Controls: 6.0/10
Story: 6.5/10
Localization: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 8.5/10
Graphics: 7.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 6.0/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 48-72 Hours

Overall: 7.0/10 

Sunday, November 14, 2021


Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You ThinkFactfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book chiefly by the late Swedish statistician Hans Rosling is written in his voice but the effort of three individuals, including his son Ola Rosling and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Rönnlund. The main author begins by explaining why he loved the circus, mainly because he loved seeing the seemingly-impossible, and when studying medicine, a lecture on how the throat worked inspired him to become a sword swallower. The author posed several fact-based questions to different groups, with most answering incorrectly, in fact with chimpanzees actually scoring better, along with random answering.

The author notes that extreme poverty has halved during the past twenty years, that politicians tend to make policy based on outdated, incorrect facts, with the media not responsible for distorted worldviews. World leaders at a United Nations conference also had mixed results on answering fact-based questions. Rosling indicates that most of the world population lives in middle-income countries, and that the world improves yearly. He uses pictures to illustrate several points, and indicates that the human brain is the product of millions of years of evolution. The book is the author’s last resort to battle global ignorance, to form views based on a fact-based perspective.

The author started his battle against global misconceptions in October 1995, using the child mortality rate to illustrate a point, and indicates how many see the world as being divided into two, how people tend to see things in black and white. He notes that the child mortality rate is at its highest in tribal societies and traditional farmers in remote rural areas, although fewer now live in such conditions. He indicates that the world is not nearly as divided into two as it was twenty years ago, and that low-income countries are more developed than we think, using a basis on four different income levels.

He indicates he had a near-death experience when he was four years old, and battles the misconception that the world is getting worse, that people tend to notice the bad more than the good. There are indeed many things wrong with the world, and notes how one can use statistics as therapy, indicating that there are many improvements that rarely get reported, such as the extreme poverty rate around the world has been falling since 1800. The average life expectancy around the world today is 70, and he indicates that every country world around the world has improved theirs in the past two centuries.

The author battles the mega misconception that the world population is just “increasing and increasing,” and notes that there will be the same number of children in 2100 as in 2000, with the world population eventually slowing down, and that the growing population is because there will be more adults. Since 1800, world population remained stable, with most children dying before becoming adults. He indicates that the connection between religion and babies per woman is not terribly impressive, and indicates that more survivors will lead to fewer people. He indicates things such as Bangladeshi children can expect to live 73 years, with the number rising since the country’s independence.

The author discusses a 1975 plane crash, and thought it was a Soviet invasion. He notes that negative news is the kind people tend to process, that plane crashes are today far less common than people think, with negative news tending to be more reported today than positive news. He indicates that life on Levels 3 and 4 are less physically demanding and people can afford to protect themselves against nature, although such biological memories tend to do more harm than good. He notes that the death rate is always higher when disasters hit countries on Level 1 such as Nepal, due to poorly-constructed buildings, poor infrastructure, and poor medical facilities.

The author indicates how he counted the death of children in Mozambique in the early 1980s, and indicates that people tend to get things out of proportion. He indicates that to control the size instinct, people need to use two main tools, comparing and dividing. He notes that to avoid misjudging something’s importance, to avoid lonely numbers, since they tend to get reactions, and talks about a hospital bombing during the Vietnam War. He further talks about deaths caused by axe and a bear attack, along with the major coverage of the swine flu despite the relative low death toll.

Rosling talks about an experience with African poverty and how they had served gross food, indicating that everyone automatically categorizes and generalizes all the time. He notes how it is better to use the four levels rather than “developing” and “developed”, noting a project called Dollar Street as an alternative to visiting poor nations. He notes five ways to keep questioning your favorite categories: looking for differences within and similarities across groups, beware of the “majority” (which just means more than half), beware of exceptional examples, assume you are not “normal”, and beware of generalizing from one group to another.

The author indicates that Africa has been making steady progress, that cultures, nations, religions, and people are in constant transformation. One of the things that I largely disagree with the author about is his total failure to mention abstinence as a perfectly legitimate form of birth control, although he does make some good points, noting that slow change is not no change, that societies and cultures are in constant movement. He notes that knowledge has no sell-by date, to constantly refresh your knowledge. He also suggests talking with grandparents to compare your life with how theirs was.

Rosling has a humorous anecdote that forming an opinion through the media alone would be like judging him based on a picture of just his foot, that people find simple ideas attractive. He notes that experts and activists have limitations, with some of the former even scoring badly on fact-based questions. He notes that numbers are not the single solution, that we should be highly skeptical of conclusions derived purely from number crunching. He indicates that medical professionals can become very single-minded about medicine, or even a particular kind of medicine.

The author discusses the blame instinct, which involves finding a clear, simple reason for why something bad has happened, that to understand most of the world’s significant problems, we have to look beyond a guilty individual and to systems instead. When something goes well, we’re also quick to give credit to individuals or simple causes, when again the reasons tend to be more complicated. Blame games often reveal our preferences, and that businesses can sometimes be “the good guys”. Journalists too take blame for not reporting “the truth”, although Rosling notes that journalists and filmmakers know no more than the general public.

Rosling talks about the urgency instinct, how some things make us want to take immediate action in the face of a perceived dangers. He notes five global risks of which were should have genuine worry, including global pandemic, financial collapse, world war, climate change, and extreme poverty. He indicates that people need to recognize when decisions feel urgent and remembering that they rarely are. The book was written before COVID struck, although much of what the author says definitely rings true, that we need things like the Olympics, international trade, and educational exchange programs.

The author talks about how the concept of factfulness saved his life when he and a teacher faced angry villagers in the Democratic Republic on Congo were misunderstanding about his investigation of the disease konzo, that he just needed to test blood. He indicates that one can practice factfulness in education, in business, in journalism, in our organizations or communities, and as individual citizens. He notes that children need to learn about life on the four different income levels, that most Western employees in large multinationals and financial institutions still operate to deeply rooted, outdated, and distorted worldviews. Journalists, activists, and politicians also suffer from dramatic worldviews, and that people are ignorant of facts on a global level.

The book began in September 2015, with the author getting pancreatic cancer and dying in 2017, his son and daughter-in-law continuing his work. All in all, it was definitely an illuminating read that definitely gives me a more optimistic view of the world, despite some kinks that we genuinely need to work out, and while there are things that I definitely disagree with the author about, he definitely does make valid points, and that we very much need to develop fact-based viewpoints. As the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Every man is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts”.

View all my reviews

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Dragon Quest (Nintendo Switch)

 Dragon Quest I Akira Toriyama Art

Remember Thou Art Mortal

Back when my family owned a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), we had also gotten a subscription to the Nintendo Power magazine and with it a free copy of the game Dragon Warrior, of whose Japanese origin I was unaware, being a naïve young gamer, although it would definitely remain in my memory my first JRPG that I played to completion, when I was unfamiliar with the roleplaying game genre, and I wouldn’t discover its contemporaries such as the original Final Fantasy until later in my life. Decades later, I purchased the Nintendo Switch version of Dragon Quest, its true Japanese name that got changed in North America for early copyright reasons, for a meager price, and played it to completion again. Does it stand the test of time?

Much like the original Dragon Warrior, its latest version on the Switch follows a descendant of the legendary hero Erdrick, who brought light to the world of Alefgard once upon a time. Sometime before the game begins, the evil Dragonlord has kidnapped Princess Gwaelin of Tantegel, intending for her to become his wife, and the king tasks the protagonist with rescuing her and vanquishing the villain in his lair, which will require him to travel Alefgard to acquire special items necessary to create a bridge to the antagonist’s island, not to mention the sword and armor of the land’s ancient savior.

The narrative isn’t particularly spectacular, following the typical damsel-in-distress trope, although the background is good, and what really redeems it is the absolute care given to the translation, which akin to the 8-bit version uses medieval speech including pronouns such as thou, thee, and thyself, not to mention appropriate conjugations for them like “thou art.” Mercifully, the text virtually never descends into ye-olde-butchered territory and is almost completely grammatically-sound even with its medieval speech, although there is occasional vocabulary many Western gamers not completely versed in English won’t understand such as (simper). Regardless, the localization team did a wonderful job.

Much akin to the 8-bit version, the Switch iteration features randomly-encountered turn-based combat with incredibly-straightforward mechanics, putting the protagonist in one-on-one fights with a single enemy. The player chooses a command for Erdrick’s descendant, including attacking the enemy with his equipped weapon, using an MP-consuming magic spell, using a medical herb, or attempting to escape the adversary, which naturally doesn’t always work, especially against more powerful antagonists. Battles naturally end when either the hero exterminates the enemy or the foe completely eradicates the warrior’s HP.

Death doesn’t result in a Game Over and a trip back to the title screen as many RPGs tend to accomplish, but the hero reviving at Tantegel Castle with full HP and MP, and half the gold he was carrying lost, but he can store money in the thousands at the bank in Tantegel Town that survives his defeat, later on largely nullifying the death penalty, and the best obtainable weapon and armor in the game don’t cost money, which ultimately becomes irrelevant late into the game, except to purchase the best shield, medical herbs (which can actually somewhat reduce the player’s need to use healing magic, and the best armor gradually restores health as he walks), magic keys to open locked doors, and a torch or two to illuminate dark areas, also reducing the need to use the Glow spell that eventually wears off, torches never going out despite lighting a lower area.

The hero also obtains magic that can instantly allow him to exit dungeons, and chimera wings or the Zoom spells can return him to Tantegel, but unfortunately don’t allow him to teleport to other visited towns. I did occasionally upgrade my weapon and armor when I banked enough money so that I could survive the harder encounters, and there is admittedly early-game hell, with analysis proving the game to be unwinnable, under any normal circumstances, until the hero reaches Level 17, when he obtains the Midheal spell, with late-game foes such as the final form of the last boss dealing more damage at times than the protagonist can heal without the secondary recovery magic.

I was fortunate enough to beat the final battles my first try and had been a level or two after seventeen, although there admittedly some genuine issues with the mechanics such as the developers at times having worshipped the Random Number God, with foes sometimes taking their turns before the hero, and the game at times randomly choosing who goes first, how much damage he deals and receives, and so on. There are things, however, such as items that permanently increase the hero’s stats, a quicksave available outside Tantegel (where the player can perform hard saves) in case the player needs to break from the game, and Dragon Quest in the end is the kind of game one can definitely “git gud” at.

Despite the quicksave, control is one of the game’s weaker aspects, with things such as the absence of an in-game measure of playtime and maps for dungeons (though the player can bring up a map of the overworld), a lot of dialogue when shopping for equipment and items, and limited inventory with items outside medical herbs and magic keys not stacking (although players can store items at the bank in Tantegel Town). There’s also vague direction on how to advance the game, although talking with NPCs can sometimes give hints at what to do next, and one could sort of consider Dragon Quest to be a semi-open-world game. Regardless, there could have been better interaction with the player.

Inarguably one of Dragon Quest’s strongest aspects outside the translation is the late Koichi Sugiyama’s iconic soundtrack, with superb instrumentation that really enhances things such as the title screen theme, the save screen music that’s actually a variation of the main town theme, the regal Tantegel castle tune, the overworld track, and so on that all have extensions compared to the original 8-bit versions, with no bad music at all. Some of the minor music such as the leveling horns, the organ-laced defeat theme, Princess Gwaelin’s love theme, etcetera, also have a significant degree of memorability. There are rare weak points such as the lack of a change in battle music until the final form of the last boss and dated sound effects, but the game overall is very much pleasant to the ears.

However, the visuals, based on those from the 16-bit remake of Dragon Quest III, are one of the game’s more average aspects. Akira Toriyama’s enemy designs in battle are good, but there are many palette swaps, and they have no animation, fights also strictly first-person. The spritework is decent, with nice effects such as the swaying of the protagonist’s ponytail on his helmet, but new equipment doesn’t alter his appearance, and sprites generally don’t show much emotion. Buildings also have wholly gray-brick rooftops, and there is pixilation aplenty. Overall, the graphics never reach brilliance.

Finally, the first game is fairly short, with my ending playtime surpassing a little over five hours, but more unskilled players may make the ten-hour mark, depending upon how they play, with little lasting appeal after that.

Overall, the original Dragon Quest is a competent if generic Japanese RPG, although it’s actually not a bad entry-level introduction to the JRPG genre, given its straightforward but often challenging mechanics, superb soundtrack, nice backstory, and a great translation with medieval flair. It does have plenty weaknesses such as the fact that it’s unwinnable, under any standard circumstances, until the hero reaches Level 17, a total lack of in-game maps for dungeons, weak direction on how to advance the main game, the average graphics, and the general lack of lasting appeal. Regardless, the monetary and temporal investments aren’t too excessive, and it’s definitely a decent entry-level JRPG.

This review is based on a playthrough of the digital version downloaded to the owner’s Switch.

The Good:
+Nice straightforward mechanics you can “git gud” at.
+Excellent soundtrack.
+Good backstory not forced down the player’s throat.
+Excellent medieval dialogue.

The Bad:
-Unwinnable until Level 17.
-No dungeon maps.
-Weak direction on what to do next.
-Average visuals.
-Little lasting appeal.

The Bottom Line:
A competent but largely generic JRPG.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 7.0/10
Controls: 4.0/10
Story: 5.0/10
Localization: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 5.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 2.0/10
Difficulty: Slightly Hard
Playing Time: 5-10 Hours

Overall: 6.0/10

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings


Another great MCU film; in particular I really liked the fantastical CG furry animals in the alternate dimension.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Learn Japanese to Survive! Kanji Combat

I was completely unaware, until recently, that there existed RPGs that served also as educational tools for the different character sets of the Japanese language: hiragana, katakana, and kanji, although I just so happened to discover them on Steam, and thus purchased the trilogy whose games instructed one in each, which surprisingly eluded coverage from even RPG-centric websites. I definitely didn’t regret my purchase, given my continued quest to make sense of Japanese, and I also got some practice writing the characters of each language set. The third and final game in the trilogy, Learn Japanese to Survive! Kanji Combat of course focuses on the language’s kanji derived from Chinese, and those in particular with little exposure to the tongue will definitely get something out of it.

Kanji Combat occurs chronologically after Hiragana Battle and Katakana War, with references to the game’s predecessors sprinkled occasionally throughout the dialogue, and focuses on a student who travels to Japan to experience the country’s culture and language, with several companions acquired along the way also seeking instruction in the enigmatic tongue. Early on, the cities of Japan disappear, with the party needing to visit an alternate dimension in order to restore them to the real world. The story does have some derivative elements, such as a similarity to Actraiser with the village-building portion, there are misspellings in the text, oddities such as sidequest duck characters all named Duck, and there’s a bit of a deficit of vocabular kanji combinations, although the affection events gained from repeated use of characters in combat, not to mention the developed main ending, somewhat compensate for the narrative foibles.

Throughout the game, Hana regularly teaches the party new kanji, including their stroke order, meaning, and on’yomi/kun’yomi readings. Remembering these is critical to success in battle against the kanji-based antagonists, where the player has to guess the correct kanji readings or kanji that represent adversarial meaning to damage foes individually; incorrect answers result in some characters to the character who gets the reading or meaning incorrect. Characters also obtain magic spells that can perform useful things such as increasing one party member or everyone’s stats, or kill a random individual/multiple kanji enemies, the latter I found particularly useful against mobs of foes.

As in turn-based RPGs such as Final Fantasy X, characters take their turns depending upon agility and execute their commands immediately after input, although a gauge showing turn order like in Katakana War showing player and enemy turn order is oddly missing. Furthermore, even though overall party size can go well beyond the maximum combat participants of four, there is the inability to swap characters out during battle, which would have been handy given that many allies have skills mostly specific to them, and a more organized listing of attacks written in kun’yomi would have spared constantly having to peruse the characters’ lists. Despite these issues, fights generally flow decently, and combat is both fun and educational.

Another factor in the game mechanics is that the player can use kanji orbs gained from exterminating enemies to rebuild and upgrade the hub town, similar to the gameplay of Actraiser. Facilities include a library where the player can access vocabulary lessons unlocked when they have learned certain kanji, shops to purchase items, weapons, armor, and accessories, a fountain to exchange kanji orbs for others of different types, a treehouse where the player can fight supplemental enemies, and a shrine where characters can pay to get temporary boosts in combat. Characters can also unlock affection events the more players use them in battle, with additional stat increases unlocked at the first, third, and fifth levels. Generally, the gameplay engine comes together nicely.

Control has some positive aspects, such as the standard ability to see stat increases or decreases with the purchase of new equipment, item descriptions, an equip-best option for each character’s weapon, armor, and accessory, skippable cutscene dialogue, clear direction on where to travel next even for the sidequests, and a save-anywhere feature, among other things. There are issues, however, such as the inability to skip cutscenes as a whole, some points of no return, particularly when kanji monsters invade the hub town, no opportunity to equip weapons, armor, and accessories when purchasing them, the lack of maps for dungeons, and that the player has to view playing time on the save menu, although things could have certainly been worse.

The strongest aspect of Kanji Combat is its soundtrack, largely rivaling those of JRPGs, with just about every track being solid. There is voice acting as well, although the quality is somewhat inconsistent, and there is a weird dinging sound when transitioning between areas, but the music largely compensates for the other weaknesses of sound.

The visuals are superficially decent, strongest in battle with well-designed kanji monsters whose font is definitely interpretable, and the well-proportioned character sprites, although attacks, as in prior games in the trilogy, is still telekinetic on part of both sides, and the field graphics still use chibi character sprites that don’t show emotion. Cutscenes also contain narration by anime-style character portraits that look decent for the most part, although there are some instances, particularly during critical story scenes, where the style of scenes sometimes mars the narrative experience. In the end, the graphics aren’t great, but certainly could have been worse.

Finally, the game is short like its predecessors, taking somewhere from sixteen to twenty-four hours to complete, with little in the way of lasting appeal since the player can accomplish everything there is to do within the game in one playthrough.

Overall, Kanji Combat is a competent educational RPG that hits some of the right notes with regards to its solid strategic educational gameplay mechanics, the clear story direction, the great soundtrack, and the nice art direction. However, it does stumble with regards to a few areas of its control, the somewhat-derivative plot, the lack of polish at times for the visuals, and general absence of lasting appeal. However, those who enjoyed the game’s precursors seeking to sharpen their skills with the kanji character system of Japanese will definitely get good value, and as a student of the language, I very much found it to be a decent refresher.

The Good:
+Nice educational mechanics.
+Clear direction on how to advance.
+Great soundtrack.
+Solid art direction.

The Bad:
-Control could have been better.
-Some derivative story elements.
-Visuals could have used more polish.
-Little lasting appeal.

The Bottom Line:
A competent educational RPG.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Steam
Game Mechanics: 8.0/10
Controls: 6.0/10
Story: 6.0/10
Music/Sound: 8.5/10
Graphics: 6.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 5.0/10
Difficulty: Moderate
Playing Time: 16-24 Hours

Overall: 6.5/10