Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Tales of Destiny: Director's Cut

A Tale Well Retold

Namco’s Tales of series began in 1995 with Phantasia for the Super Famicom, although Nintendo of America’s aversion to any game with “controversial” content prevented its localization, and North American gamers would get their first taste of the franchise with Tales of Destiny for the Sony PlayStation, although its English release occurred when Japanese RPGs in general were still niche, and the series wasn’t nearly popular enough to warrant translation of its many future titles. Destiny would eventually see a remake for the PlayStation 2, not to mention an updated rerelease, Tales of Destiny: Director’s Cut, which too didn’t receive an official English version.

Like its original incarnation, Destiny opens with blonde spiky-haired narcoleptic protagonist Stahn Aileron stowing away on the sentient dragon ship, the Draconis, where he finds a special weapon in the form of Dymlos, an intelligent talking weapon known as a Swordian. He eventually crosses paths with other Swordian wielders, with those who infused their souls into the weapons from the ancient Aeth’er Wars, which threatens to repeat with the gradual creation of a second earth above the current world with the help of a powerful MacGuffin known as the Eye of Atamoni. The story is fairly enjoyable, with plentiful development largely thanks to the countless skits throughout the game, although there are some minor similarities to Phantasia and some narrative nods to the Star Wars series.

The PlayStation 2 version of Destiny, unlike the initial incarnation, features an encounter system similar to the third Shin Megami Tensei and Etrian Odyssey franchise where an indicator gradually turns lavender to indicate how close the player is to encountering enemies, with the frequency of encounters luckily adjustable with Holy and Dark Bottles, not to mention support skills (new to the remake) from sidelined companions. Rather than rehash the original game’s two-dimensional gameplay, the remake sports a new incarnation of the series’ signature gameplay known as the Aerial Linear Motion Battle System (AR-LMBS) that emphasizes aerial combination attacks against the enemy.

Furthermore, MP is gone, replaced by Chain Capacity points, where each of the four characters active in combat start with an initial account dictated by certain innate skills, regular attacks consuming one CC, and other skills and magic consuming different amounts. After a character has completely exhausted his or her CC, they refill, with their beginning amount increased by one, and having a cap that too special skills set up outside battle dictate. While the AI of the controlled character’s allies is mostly competent, it isn’t always foolproof, but mercifully, the player can pause the action of combat to use magic manually, or a consumable item (their use being strictly manual) after which players must wait a few seconds before being able to use another.

Outside combat, Swordian users can make use of the Swordian Device system to set special skills that require a certain number of points, with those equipped gradually gaining percentage points where, at a hundred percent, they “master” and unlock higher-level abilities. Another addition is the Rerise system where the player can use different Lens types, obtained from victorious battles, to raise their stats, with different branches that have divergent stat development paths. The system of food is different as well, players initially able to equip four different recipes that see their use depending upon certain combat conditions to recover the party’s health, with the Food Sack eventually leveling to hold up to eight recipes that too eventually see mastery.

The battle system is generally enjoyable, although the Chain Capacity system requires a certain amount of finesse to master in Semi-Auto or Manual control, and thus, I mostly relied upon Automatic control, with the AI in that regard generally being competent in spite of occasional hiccups. Combat speed is fast as well, and should the player yearn to control a character directly, switching enemy targets pauses the action of battle akin to other entries of the franchise, and players can see how much of their health remain, which elements they’re strong against, and those to which they’re weak. Difficulty is adjustable too, and there are still plenty of tough moments even on the easiest setting, yet the challenge is generally fair. On the whole, the developers did a good job assembling the game mechanics.

Control has its high points as well, with an easy menu system, skippable voiced dialogue (except during skits) and FMVs (luckily pausable as well, as is the majority of the game within and without battle), clear direction on how to advance the main storyline with indicators noting where the player needs to go next on the overworld, a suspend save function in addition to hard saves, an in-game clock that shows both total playtime and how much time players have spent in their current session with the game, and so forth. Granted, dungeon maps are absent, and there was one point in the last dungeon where I got stuck (involving an invisible staircase), but otherwise, interaction definitely rises above average.

The aurals are another highlight of the remake, beginning with the theme song during the opening anime, which has a sad instrumental version throughout the game, not to mention plenty of solid tracks from composers Motoi Sakuraba and Shinji Tamura, for instance, with three remixes of the same battle theme indicative of the main game’s current act. The Japanese voicework largely fits the various characters as well, although the seiyū, as usual, botch the English names of abilities in combat. However, there are few to no complaints about the sound effects, and overall, the remake definitely sounds great.

The visuals are nice, as well, with a style combining two-dimensional and 3-D elements, the character sprites in towns, dungeons, and battles being 2-D and having good proportions wherever they exist, alongside colorful scenery that the developers occasionally prerendered, although there are occasional three-dimensional environs that move with the player’s visible character. The graphics are perhaps weakest on the overworld, where the model indicating the player’s active party is 3-D alongside the world map itself, which has a lot of popup as well. However, the visuals are good in battle aside from a few reskinned enemies, and ultimately the remake looks good graphically even today.

Finally, Stahn’s Side of the storyline takes somewhere from thirty to forty hours to complete, with Leon’s Side taking around ten, accounting for somewhere between twenty-four to forty-eight hours total, with plenty of lasting appeal in the form of a New Game Plus mode where the player can bequeath elements from previous playthroughs, not to mention sidequests such as an extra dungeon, and aside from the lack of in-game percentage completions, replayability is well above average.

All things considered, Namco Tales Studio did an excellent job remaking Tales of Destiny, which almost feels like a completely different game, given the major modifications to the core gameplay that work superbly, alongside solid control, an excellent storyline with two different perspectives, great sound, and pretty visuals. Granted, those who don’t care much for the idea of a game that’s a lot easier to allow to “play itself” may not appreciate it, and there are some minor hiccups especially in regards to the graphics, but the game definitely deserved an official localization, and those who don’t want to wait years for a port or remaster will be happy to know a mostly-complete English fan translation exists.

This review is based on single playthroughs of Stahn and Leon’s Sides, each on Simple difficulty.

The Good:
+Great game mechanics.
+Tight control.
+Enjoyable story.
+Superb soundtrack and voicework.
+Looks good even today.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-A lot easier to let “play itself”.
-No in-game maps.
-Skit dialogue unskippable.
-Visuals lack polish at points.

The Bottom Line:
A superb remake Americans missed out on.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 9.5/10
Controls: 9.0/10
Story: 9.0/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 8.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 9.5/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 24-48 Hours

Overall: 9.5/10

Thursday, May 26, 2022


Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle, #1)Eragon by Christopher Paolini
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The inspiration for the reviled movie of the same name, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon opens with the capture of an elven maiden by a Shade and his Urgals. The main story opens in an area of the world of Alagaësia known as the Spine, the titular protagonist among the few hunters who did not fear the location, finding a mysterious dark blue stone that he takes home, and tries to sell in want of food for himself and his Uncle Garrow. Eragon knows little of his lineage, with his long-departed mother Selena having come to the nearby village of Carvahall sixteen years before the story’s time, pregnant with him.

Eragon has mentor in the storyteller Brom, and hears of an insurgent group known as the Varden attempting to overthrow the tyrannical King Galbatorix. His life changes dramatically when the strange blue stone turns out to be an egg that hatches a female dragon he ultimately names Saphira, and which grows quickly and becomes progressively more difficult to hide. An Urgal attack on his home drives Eragon into an adventure with Brom, from whom he learns swordsmanship and even literacy, given that he never needed the art of reading in his life before, and even finds that he has magical capability.

Brom takes Eragon to meet an old friend named Jeod, with the titular hero eventually finding he needs to resolve things on his own, and goes to the Hadarac Desert, beyond which the Beor Mountains loom large. Eragon eventually meets a mysterious warrior named Murtagh that agrees to help him, with the two soon captured and tasked with rescuing the telepathic elven girl Arya, afterward going into the home of the Varden and fighting a battle that concludes the first entry. Paolini follows with a pronunciation guide, a look into the various languages of his work, and acknowledges friends and family with the creation of his story.

Overall, the first installment of the Inheritance Cycle is enjoyable, even if somewhat derivative of other works such as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (the latter which the book, as opposed to the motion picture, bears lesser resemblance), but is overall a good straightforward fantasy novel. The common use of original names is sufficient to distinguish it from other titles within the fantasy genre. It’s actually good for a first novel written and published by an author before he turned twenty, and while the initial entry doesn’t leave any lingering cliffhangers, I definitely look forward to rereading the remaining entries of the tetralogy.

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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Commission by Bima Anggoro


Of Sand and Snow

Of Sand and Snow (The Wings of War, #5)Of Sand and Snow by Bryce O'Connor
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The fifth installment of author Bryce O’Connor’s The Wings of War series, with fictitious quotes preceding each chapter similar to the Dune books, opens with Serys unloading his traveling companions from a wagon, talking about “the Monster” Raz I’Syul Arro and his military might. An area known as the Under Caves receives mention as well, and serves as an important origin point for a plot twist later on through the book. The anthropomorphic dragon-like atherian Raz surveys his troops, and wages regular battle against his enemies alongside the magician Syrah Brandt.

Gains and losses regularly occur on both sides of the war, with occasional trade among nations discussed by their leaders, political and military. Raz ultimately discovers the truth of his birth, and mountains known as the Crags prove pivotal in the movement of forces throughout the conflict. The Dragon further fears civil incursion among his own forces, and his enemies have a magician among them as well known as Lazura, whose past the author explores in the final chapters. She and her antagonist sorceress Syrah engage in a pivotal conflict towards the end of the novel, after which Lazura seeks the support of the Seven Cities.

All in all, despite the presence of anthropomorphic dragon characters, which I tend to appreciate alongside anthropomorphs of other species, races, and such, I didn’t enjoy the latest book in The Wings of War as much as a remembered having appreciated the series during my original readthrough, and I’ll admit I somewhat had trouble following the action and jargon native to the literary franchise such as šef, which I assume is an exotic form of “chief” and tried to make sense of searching the internet. Those who enjoyed the book’s predecessors will likely have a good experience with the fifth entry, although I probably won’t go through the books again once further installments release.

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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.

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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.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Commission by Kei Fox


As Iron Falls

As Iron Falls (The Wings of War, #4)As Iron Falls by Bryce O'Connor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fourth and thus far latest The Wings of War book by Bryce O’Connor occurs the during the in-universe year following its predecessor, 862 v.S. (ver Syul), and opens with news that Adrion’s cousin died at the High Citadel in the battle that occurred at the end of the previous book. The main chapters commence with the albino and cycloptic Syrah Brahnt waking to children screaming in the Citadel, with she and the dragon-like atherian Raz I’Syul Arro taking their leave of the temple, entering a forest where a family talks of the new šef in Miropa, Blaeth, who is more ruthless than his predecessor Ergoin Sass.

Raz and Syrah ultimately make their ways to the end of the Arocklen Woods, en route to Ystréd, with mercenaries tailing them and being dealt with. The two eventually find themselves at the Laorin temple in Ystréd, with some in the city such as Na’zeem Ashur distraught at the presence of the individual they term “the Monster” and “the Dragon.” Raz receives injuries in the skirmish that occurs at the sanctuary, and quickly finds himself in the care of the Carver of Ystréd, Evalyn “Eva” Zall, when it is suggested that he and Syrah go out at sea via the vessel of Gahrt Argoan, the Sylgid.

At the beginning of the second part of the book is a chapter where Uhsula of the Undercaves has a vision of a sailing ship, likely the one Raz and Syrah ride, with storms testing the vessel and its crew; pirates too harass the Sylgid. It is said that Raz will be truly free in the Emperor’s Ocean, although he and Syrah agree to remain in their destination Perce. Some minor characters get the spotlight, such as Karan Brightneck, who toils as a slave in the city of Karesh Syl, where a series of battles occur towards the end of the book.

The slaves in the city yearn for freedom, with Raz supporting their insurrection, and battling one of the Tash’s men, Azzeki Koro, who proves a good match. Overall, the latest entry of the franchise is definitely enjoyable and mature, given some mature language and violence, although there is some minor confusion at some points, for instance the races of certain characters not explicitly specified or given reminders. Given the unresolved nature of the plot, furthermore, it’s clear that this is not the final entry in the series, with this reviewer definitely interested in reading its successor (or successors).

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Wednesday, May 4, 2022

SaGa 2: Hihou Densetsu - Goddess of Destiny

The Legend of a Relic

Ever since its first three games released on the original Gameboy, given the Final Fantasy misnomer in North America due to that particular series’ greater (but then still niche) popularity in the region, the SaGa series has always been the Final Fantasy franchise’s eccentric cousin, given the offbeat nature of most entries’ gameplay mechanics coupled with above-average difficulty. American gamers would completely miss out on the Romancing trilogy originally for the Super Famicom until generations later, although to date they would out on the remakes of the original SaGa games, that of the very first title for the doomed WonderSwan Color handheld, and the second, SaGa 2: Hihou Densetsu – Goddess of Destiny (the Japanese subtitle meaning “Legend of the Relics”) for the Nintendo DS.

Upon starting a new game, the player can customize a protagonist of different types: human, esper, mecha, or monster, and subsequently select three allies from a combination of the aforementioned races. Afterward, the hero or heroine goes on a search for their missing father, having entrusted them with one of many relics, with the gradual collection of these MacGuffins occurring throughout various worlds connected by the Sky Pillar. The story has some good ideas, as well as some positives such as the protagonist and his allies actually interacting, although the idea of interconnected worlds the first SaGa game had done, and there are tropes such as an absentee parent and an underground rebellion in one world, and the plot’s direction isn’t always clear.

As in other SaGa games in the past, there are plenty of good ideas involving the series’ signature offbeat gameplay, with enemies, unlike in the original SaGa 2, visible on whatever overworlds the player traverses and in dungeons. However, unlike games such as EarthBound, the enemy models indicating encounters always charge the player’s visible character, although in some cases, they have fixed patterns of movement and eventually give up chasing the player after a few seconds. It is also possible, should the encounter sprites be close, to “link” these encounters, accounting for more enemies the player must battle.

When combat begins, the player faces a number of enemy parties, their amounts being greater depending upon how many encounter sprites “linked,” and depending upon the direction the player’s character faced before the encounter, either the enemy may gain the initiative or the player will. Regardless, enemies almost always outnumber the player’s characters, although there are a number of ways by which to deal with them. Outside battle, players can equip humans, espers, and mechas with items, with the first and last character types outfittable with various items, although the esper race by default has half its inventory occupied by skills, resistances, and weaknesses, and the monster type having an unchangeable inventory depending upon its current form.

Characters that can alter their inventories have a number of options from which they can choose, with players able to occupy slots with defense-increasing equipment and/or weapons and shields that have a fixed number of uses before disappearing, with the latter’s attack power depending upon how high a character’s strength, or in some cases agility, is. Humans and espers, maybe mechas as well, can also equip spell books or staffs that can affect one or all characters, or one group or all enemies. Espers too can receive “natural” abilities that have fixed usages before the player needs to rest at an inn to recover them, as do monsters in many cases.

The remake, akin to the original, follows the traditional turn-based structure where the player inputs commands for their four-character party (with doing nothing and attempting to escape from battle being options as well), and they and the enemy execute commands largely depending upon agility, although there exists the typical gameplay cliché of enemies sometimes being able to beat the player’s characters to healing, which is definitely pivotal in the sometimes-cheap final boss battle with multiple phases. The player has the option to disable attack animations for their characters and the enemy, although in the case of battles that contain dozens of enemies, they can still take a long time.

The defeat of all the player’s characters, during the first part of the game, gives them the chance to restart the lost battle, which can be advantageous if the initial encounter began with the enemy having the initiative, although the option disappears after a certain plot point. Victory, on the other hand, may result in random stat increases for humans and espers depending upon their combat actions (and very, very rarely, a natural increase to their defense stats), one of the defeated adversaries dropping meat for a monster ally to consume, resulting in a new form (and luckily, if a monster has become a specific enemy at one point, the player can view their stats and skills after consumption), and finally, money.

A new system introduced in the DS SaGa 2 is that of Muses the player can rescue and send to a celestial area, players able to provide them gifts that earn them special points they can use at the Castle of Fates to purchase combination link points of different types that allow characters in combat to chain commands, resulting in increased damage to enemies. The Muses themselves, after providing players a thousand of these points (with the “correct” gifts to Muses netting them five hundred each), may randomly help the player’s party in battle with things such as increased resistance to magic, an additional attack against the enemies, or full restoration of all characters.

The heavy degree of luck and randomization is one of the primary flaws in the mechanics, and as implied, the final boss battle is one of the main exhibitions of the issue, with plentiful difficulty in my experience despite maxing several character stats. Furthermore, players can’t visit the Castle of Fates at will to purchase more linkage uses until the final part of the game. A guide is also necessary to find all the Muses and their respective gifts to get them to assist randomly in combat. Generally, much akin to other entries of the SaGa franchise, there are plenty good ideas, but they don’t always work in practice.

Control, however, actually fares moderately better, with one of the main pluses being the ability to record one’s progress anywhere outside battle, and mercifully, the game gives indication of points of no return, in which case players can save in an alternate slot. The menus are also generally easy, with an in-game measure of playtime as well, although when the player acquires map abilities such as being able to excavate hidden treasure or teleport to a past area, they have to go into the menu to change the current field skill. Moreover, the game only indicates objective points when the player is within range on the lower screen, and generally, interaction has its strong points but could have been better.

The remake is strongest with regards to its soundtrack by Kenji Ito and Nobuo Uematsu, with plenty of catchy pieces such as the overworld piece and battle themes, although the quality is somewhat weak at times, and the music in the current area outside combat restarts from the beginning. The visuals have plenty going for them as well, such as the cel-shaded style, although there’s plenty pixilation and many reskinned enemies.

Finally, total playtime ranges from twenty-four to forty-eight hours, with theoretical replayability in the form of a New Game+, although most players likely won’t want to devote additional time to the remake.

On the whole, SaGa 2 for the Nintendo DS is another run-of-the-mill entry of a series that has its share of mostly average-to-bad entries that are largely inaccessible to mainstream gamers. For one, the game mechanics, while the ideas are good, very much falter in execution, the narrative is middling, and the visuals are average. There are some aspects, however, that are genuinely good such as the soundtrack and the always-welcome save-anywhere feature that somewhat balance the remake’s quality. Regardless, it often exemplifies what’s wrong with the Square-Enix series, and while an English fan translation is available for Anglophone players, they definitely shouldn’t prioritize playing it.

This review is based on a single playthrough to the standard ending with a human main character, a female esper, a mecha, and a monster.

The Good:
+Good ideas behind gameplay mechanics.
+You can save your game most anywhere.
+Great soundtrack.
+Has some semblance of lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Lots of luck and randomization involved.
-Average story.
-Middling visuals.
-Not fun enough to go through again.

The Bottom Line:
Another average entry of the Square-Enix series.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo DS
Game Mechanics: 5.0/10
Controls: 7.0/10
Story: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 8.5/10
Graphics: 5.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 2.5/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 24-48 Hours

Overall: 5.5/10 

Commission by BoskoComicsArtist


I commissioned this so I have a wallpaper for September, and both countries' independence days are that month (I know Cinco de Mayo is tomorrow, but it's *not* Mexican Independence Day and rather Battle of Puebla Day).

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

The Cuphead Show!

  The Cuphead Show!.png 

Focuses on the misadventures of the titular protagonist and his brother Mugman under the care of Elder Kettle. I actually enjoyed watching this more than playing the game that inspired it, it's a good homage to 1930s to 1940s theatrical cartoons, and as the last short ends on a cliffhanger I'll definitely continue watching it when more episodes release.

The Battle of the Labyrinth

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

In the penultimate entry of author Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the namesake demigod protagonist is at an orientation of a school his mother wants him to attend the subsequent school year, and just like in prior books, things go awry with monsters in cheerleaders’ disguises seeking to off him, Camp Half-Blood being a prime target for the forces of the Titan Kronos. Grover the satyr also faces the threat of revocation of his searcher’s license unless he finds the god Pan, and an entrance into the titular Labyrinth constructed by Daedalus is found below the Camp.

Percy also has a number of dreams throughout the book, among them involving King Minos interrupting a conversation between Daedalus and his son Icarus. In the middle of their navigation of the Labyrinth, Percy and his friends encounter a ranch with horrid conditions for the animals, which prove carnivorous as well. They also encounter the Sphinx, which asks random trivia questions instead of posing riddles, with the group eventually finding Daedalus’ workshop. During the book’s events, the mortal girl Rachel helps Percy and company, and a council ultimately decides Grover’s fate.

The book ends with a few battles and Percy’s fifteenth birthday, and is overall another fine addition to Riordan’s series, given its enjoyable blend of fantasy, mythology, and contemporary America, with a few twists throughout the narrative. There are also a few locations visited I’ve actually been to, such as Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, and could certainly visualize it and other places Percy and his friends encounter during the story. Some fecal references at one point mar the book’s events, but otherwise, I would recommend the fourth Percy Jackson book to those who enjoyed its precursors.

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