Friday, August 17, 2018

Manual Stimulation: Double Dungeons (PC Engine)

I pretty much ignored first-person dungeon-crawlers until I tackled the original Etrian Odyssey back in 2007 or so.

Given my love of RPGs, that probably seems a bit odd. So what's the deal? I'm not sure, to tell you the truth. I've never really thought about why I tend to avoid (even today) first-person dungeon-crawlers. The only reason I can come up with at the moment is I like seeing my party members.

Did all of that change after I played and loved Etrian Odyssey? Not exactly--which is to say I still vastly prefer more traditional (Japanese) RPGs to these labyrinth-obsessed offshoots.

What prompted me to pick up Double Dungeons, a 1989 release that's about as "labyrinth obsessed" as you can get?

The main reason is I was on a real PC Engine kick when I picked up the copy that gave me access to the manual you see here. Also, it was dirt cheap, which always helps.

It's a good thing this HuCard can be picked up on the cheap, too, as it's not exactly the most stunning dungeon-crawler around.

Sure, Double Dungeons offers up an intriguing gimmick--two people can explore a level simultaneously (although not side by side, sadly)--but most who try it won't find it thrilling enough to overcome the title's otherwise-dull gameplay and graphics.

Still, you've got to give developer Masaya credit for attempting something unique with this typically staid genre.

You've also got to give credit to the artists and designers who worked on Double Dungeons' instruction manual.

It makes buying a complete copy of this game well worth the price of admission, as you're likely now aware.

I'm especially fond of the backdrop that frames Double Dungeons' story on the manual's second page.  I also like the strangely sweet illustrations that sit in the corners of pages four and seven.

Line drawings of the title's enemies would've made the package even more appealing than it already is, in my opinion, but that ship sailed long ago.

Plus, the folks who pieced together the Double Dungeons how-to booklet included the requisite--for me, at least--depictions of the game's items and accessories (see pages 14 and 15, above), so you won't hear me complaining too loudly about it being a stinker.

What do you think of this edition of "Manual Stimulation"? Is it the most delicious thing you've ever seen, or is it a total dud?

See also: 'the best PC Engine game manuals (I've seen)'

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Ten things I'd change about Octopath Traveler if given the chance

My last two posts hopefully make it pretty clear I'm enjoying the hell out of Octopath Traveler at the moment.

As much as I love it, though, I don't think it's perfect. In fact, I'd make the following changes to the game if someone gave me the green light to do so.

1. I'd add a Bravely Default-like slider to the "settings" menu that lets you adjust the frequency of random battles. Being able to turn off random battles--or even increase how often they're triggered--was a real lifesaver, not to mention sanity-saver, while playing Bravely Default. Why Octopath Traveler's developers decided against including something similar here, I'll never understand.

2. I'd allow players to alter the game's difficulty on the fly, too. Again, like Bravely Default--or even the recently released Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux. Both of those 3DS titles let you switch between easy, normal, and hard (or casual, standard, and expert, in the case of Strange Journey Redux) modes as you wish. Not only isn't that possible while playing Octopath Traveler, but it's not even possible to choose a difficulty level at the game's start. As such, if you run up against an area or boss that's too hard for you, you've got no choice but to grind your party into better shape or improve your battle strategy.

Illustration by carrotchipper
3. I'd make weapons visibly distinct during battle. I've loved being able to see my party member's weapons in battle since I first played through the original Final Fantasy shortly after it was released in my neck of the woods. In fact, I stuck with that game's "coral sword" long past its sell-by date because I thought it was cool to wield a pink blade. So imagine my disappointment when I realized I'd never get to see Octopath Traveler's "bear cleaver" or "war hammer."

4. I'd include a few more unique secondary jobs. In a way, I appreciate that the folks who called the shots during Octopath Traveler's development decided to cap the game's secondary jobs at 12. It's easy for RPGs to go overboard in this area and become bloated, confusing messes. Still, I wouldn't have minded even a couple of additional career options for my hard-working crew--especially since I consider a few of the included ones to be borderline pointless.

5. I'd shorten its battles. How much shorter would I make them? I'm not sure. Slightly shorter, at the very least. And I'd focus on Octopath Traveler's boss battles in particular. Yes, I feel accomplished and relieved and all sorts of other emotions after finally toppling one of this game's end-of-chapter baddies, but I'd sacrifice a bit of that elation for tussles that occasionally last less than 30 minutes.

6. I'd let people save anywhere. This is one of Octopath Traveler's more confounding omissions, if you ask me. I know the game's supposed to be a throwback, but this is going a bit too far considering nearly all modern RPGs allow players to save where they want and when they want. Plus, you encounter the little pedestals that serve as Octopath Traveler's "save spots" every few steps, so why not just remove that visual clutter from the landscape and replace it with something that's a lot more user-friendly?

7. I'd toss in a few vehicles. I know what some of you are thinking: vehicles aren't needed in this game because it lets you "fast travel." It only lets you do so between cities, though, which often means you still have to hoof it a bit if you want to explore a cave or hunt for a shrine. Even if Octopath Traveler allowed you to plop your party anywhere on the map with a nudge of the analog stick and the press of a button, I'd still want access to a handful of "vehicles"--like maybe a boat or carriage or horse--so I could buzz around the landscape when the mood strikes.

Illustration by punkratkid
8. I'd give players more money for winning battles. Or I'd make weapons and armor cheaper. As things stand, it's easy to feel "poor" while playing Octopath Traveler--especially as you toil through its first half or so. In fact, I mostly resorted to stealing armor and weapons and items from unsuspecting townsfolk during my first 30 or 40 hours with the game because of this. Maybe that's the point? Or maybe this is Octopath Traveler's way of telling me to spend more time grinding? Either way, I'd prefer it if the gear sold by this title's many shopkeepers were a little more "wallet friendly."

9. I'd make it so the lantern used in caves and grottoes is upgradable. Hell, I'd even force players to find or buy this accessory before they could comfortably probe Octopath Traveler's many dark and dank caverns. This starter lamp would be pretty dim, too, and the only way to make it brighter and more useful would be to replace it or upgrade it in some form or fashion.

10. I'd increase the game's wackiness quotient. Although Octopath Traveler occasionally shows it's got a nutty side (Olberic's ability to challenge nearly any NPC to a one-on-one duel is a prime example), it's usually a pretty staid experience. How would I make it a little zanier? By tossing in a couple of kooky, out-of-left-field bosses, for starters. I'd also add in some silly weapon classes--like the bells and harps that pop up in a number of Final Fantasy titles.

Would you alter Octopath Traveler in any particular ways if given the chance? If so, what changes would you make?

See also: 'ten things I adore about Octopath Traveler' and 'five more (kind of silly) things I adore about Octopath Traveler'

Sunday, August 05, 2018

BONUS ROUND: five more (kind of silly) things I adore about Octopath Traveler

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you should be well aware of the fact that the bulk of my gaming time over the last month or so has been spent working my way through Octopath Traveler.

In fact, I've now devoted 55 or so hours to this much-ballyhooed Switch RPG, and I have a feeling I'll need to put at least 25 more into it before I wrap up all of its storylines.

It probably could go without saying that I'm thoroughly enjoying the experience, but I'm going to say it anyway. Actually, I already suggested it in my last post--about the "10 things I adore about Octopath Traveler."

So why am I belaboring the point today? To be honest, I thought I was done extolling Octopath Traveler's virtues when I published the write-up linked to above. A few additional virtues popped into my head this past week, though, and although my initial plan was to just stick them at the end of my earlier post, I figured they'd be overlooked.

Plus, I like that the components highlighted below are sort of silly.

The lantern you carry while in caves and grottoes--No joke, this was one of the details that most stood out for me when I watched Octopath Traveler’s first trailer more than a year and a half ago. It's the type of thing that would've thrilled me as a youngster (yes, I've always been a little weird), and it still brings a smile to my face today--even if it doesn't impact the gameplay as much as I'd like.

The mansions that double as dungeons--Is Octopath Traveler the first turn-based RPG to stick dungeons within manors and other such dwellings? Even if it isn’t, I love how it’s handled here. I especially enjoy ducking into rooms to see what may be hiding inside. I wish they featured a few secret nooks and crannies here and there (like the caves and grottoes do), but maybe producers Masashi Takahashi and Tomoya Asano are saving such treasures for the inevitable sequel?

The return of the “Final Fantasy V laugh”--Something I've always loved about the fifth Final Fantasy game is how adorable its characters look when they laugh. Well, Octopath Traveler’s protagonists and NPCs use a shockingly similar animation while guffawing or chortling. I don't know if this is an intentional reference to one of my all-time favorite games or if it's just a coincidence, but I'm going to assume it's the former until proven otherwise.

The shimmer--No, I'm not talking about the "Shimmer" that serves as a major plot point in the Annihilation film. I'm talking about the way some of Octopath Traveler's elements shimmer and sparkle in the most captivating way as you walk on or by them. You'll mostly observe this while traipsing around the game's sandy and snowy environments, or while exploring some of the aforementioned caverns, but you'll also notice it (in and on homes and shops) while strolling through its villages and towns.

The sound of your party’s footsteps--They sound like horses clopping, especially when your crew's walking across dirt or stone, and for whatever reason I find it comforting.

Now that I've had my say (again), what are your favorite aspects of Octopath Traveler?

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Ten things I adore about Octopath Traveler

I was pretty sure I'd like Octopath Traveler as soon as I finished watching the teaser footage of it that was featured in the "Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017."

That hunch persisted as I played its first demo, which hit the Switch eShop late last September.

How do I feel about Octopath Traveler now that I'm making my way through the full game? Well, I've put nearly 40 hours into it so far--what do you think?

If that's not enough detail for you, keep reading for a bit of commentary on the 10 things I most love about this throwback of an RPG.

The ability to steal--When I first added Therion ("the thief") to my party, I pretty much ignored his "steal" path action. I mostly used Tressa's similar ability, "purchase," instead. It quickly became clear to me, though, that buying armor, weapons, and items in this game is a fool's errand. Random battles just don't give you the kind of money you need to outfit your crew properly. So, I started stealing from non-player characters (NPCs)--and now I can't stop. Hopefully the game doesn't penalize me for it down the road.

The battle system--You know what excited me most during my four-hour playthrough of the first Octopath Traveler demo? The battles. They gave me powerful Bravely Default vibes--a very good thing as far as I'm concerned. Actually, I think the fights in Octopath Traveler are better than those in Bravely Default. They're certainly more visceral--especially when you "break" an enemy and your system's Joy-Cons offer up an impressive series of rumbles and jolts.

The effects and "filters"--I know a lot of people think the lovely spritework in this game is ruined by the effects its artists and developers applied to those assets, but I'm not one of them. Admittedly, there are times when the vignette and depth-of-field filters make it hard to see paths and easy to miss treasure chests, but I'd rather deal with that than have a game that's flatter and far less aesthetically pleasing.

The freedom--One of the most SaGa-esque aspects of Octopath Traveler is it allows you to go anywhere and at any time. Or, to put it another way, the game lets you do what you want, when you want to do it. This is far from the first RPG to offer such freedom, of course, but it still feels fresh here because of the eight characters--and on-going storylines--at your disposal. Get in over your head while trying to complete a particular chapter and you can simply switch to another. Or you can tackle an optional dungeon. Or you can search for one of the shrines mentioned below. Basically, what you do and when you do it is up to you.

The locales--If I had to hold up one visual element of Octopath Traveler as being more impressive than the rest, I'd go with its towns. Every one does its best to take your breath away the second you stroll past its entrance. This is mainly due to the unique and ornate architecture that fills each burg, but there are other reasons, too--such as the rivers that wind through a number of them and the bridges that cross those burbling waterways. When combined with the environmental details and backdrops, this game's hamlets basically beg you to explore them--and so far I've happily obliged.

The NPCs--In some ways, I like Octopath Traveler's NPCs more than I like its protagonists. There are so many of them, and almost every one has a story to tell. You're able to hear these tales not only by chatting up townsfolk as you would in any other RPG, by the way, but also by using Alfyn's "inquire" and Cyrus' "scrutinize" abilities. Accepting and completing side quests from and for some of these NPCs sheds even more light on their intriguing backgrounds.

The party members--I know Octopath Traveler's eight protagonists are kind of clichéd and trope-y, but I don't care. I like them anyway. I especially like the plucky merchant, Tressa, and the out-for-vengence dancer, Primrose. OK, so I have a soft spot for the cluelessly dreamy (not to mention Sherlock Holmes-y) scholar, Cyrus, and the wet-behind-the-ears apothecary, Alfyn, too. Oh, who am I kidding? I'm pretty fond of all the game's party members, though I'll admit the hermit warrior, Olberic, and the stoic hunter, H’aanit, are my least favorites.

The sense of mystery--Something I've often wished RPGs would feature more of are secret locations. Well, Octopath Traveler has loads of them. Hidden within the landscape that stretches between the game's towns and forests and caverns are caves and tombs that double as optional dungeons and shrines. (You learn secondary "jobs" in the latter.) Believe me when I say stumbling upon one of them is among the most thrilling and satisfying aspects of this globe-trotting adventure.

The soundtrack--It's been apparent since Octopath Traveler's initial tease that its soundtrack was going to be a stunner. Even so, I was unprepared for the brilliance that wafted into my ears the minute I hit "start." The tunes I've heard so far are elegant and emotional and wistful in ways that remind me of the ones I fell in love with while playing Final Fantasy V and VI for the first time back in the day. Need I say more?

The "travel banter"--As you may have heard, Octopath Traveler's eight protagonists never really acknowledge each other during the normal course of play. Those walls come crashing down after certain events, though, and when they do, pressing the plus button on your Switch lets you listen to the banter between two or more party members. These chats aren't exactly deep--they're usually just a few lines long--but they still provide a welcome look at the behind-the-scenes relationships of this tit;e's colorful cast of characters.

Are you playing Octopath Traveler, too? If so, what are your favorite aspects of it?

See also: 'five more (kind of silly) things I adore about Octopath Traveler'

Friday, July 27, 2018

Five things I don't love about Sushi Striker

If you read my last post, you know what I love about Sushi Striker.

As much as I adore this recently released 3DS and Switch game, though, it's not perfect.

In fact, a handful of its components could be called honest-to-goodness turn-offs. They're not so terrible you should pass on the game, of course--I still put more than 51 hours into it, after all--but they're definitely occasional sources of annoyance.

So, which components am I talking about here? Keep reading for all the not-so-gory details.

Sushi Striker does a horrible job of explaining how things work--I don't know if some of this information was "lost in localization" or if it wasn't included in the Japanese version either. Whatever the case may be, Sushi Striker drops the ball--or maybe I should say plate--when it comes to educating players about many of its rules and gameplay quirks. It's nothing a little trial and error, not to mention a few trips to an FAQ, can't fix, but it's a bit frustrating all the same--especially after you become aware of just how much text has been stuffed into this fast-paced puzzler.

It also doesn't make it clear which "Sushi Sprites" you can and can't recruit at any point in time--This is a big deal because not only are these adorable (at least at first) Pokémon-esque creatures one of the highlights of Sushi Striker, but they're also often the key to your success. The reason: they provide you with various abilities that can give you a leg up against your sushi-slinging opponents. To get these cuties to switch sides and join your campaign against the evil "Empire," though, you have to impress them in battle. I like that take on the "gotta catch 'em all" shtick a lot, actually, but I also find one aspect of it irksome. You see, it's not unusual to come across Sushi Sprites early on that you can't recruit until later in the story. Sushi Striker never tells you that, though, so unless you scan the web for this information, you may waste a lot of time trying to woo creatures that aren't, well, woo-able.

You have to put a good number of hours into the game before you unlock local or online battles--Get this: I had to play Sushi Striker for between five and 10 hours (sorry, I can't remember the exact amount of time) before I unlocked the ability to engage in local battles. Then I had to play another five to 10 hours to unlock the ability to engage in online battles. So, basically, it takes as many as 20 hours to open up a pair of modes that should be available right from the start--in my opinion, at least. On a related note: I have to imagine this is the main reason it's so difficult to find strangers to duel while playing the 3DS version of Sushi Striker.

It's nearly impossible to find a stranger to battle on line in the 3DS version--This may be the worst offender of them all. At least you can search the internet for help with the rest of the stumbling blocks mentioned here. There's nothing you can do about the lack of other players looking to take part in online battles. In the 50-plus hours I've spent with Sushi Striker so far, I've successfully completed exactly two such battles--and both were against the same person. Admittedly, they were laggy as hell and as such not a whole lot of fun, but I'd still pop into the "Arena" (where these matches take place) now and then if finding a competitor weren't such a pain.

Some of the star requirements are completely ridiculous--When you first start your way through Sushi Striker, it's easy to be fooled into thinking it's going to be a rather straightforward and superficial adventure. Match plates, stack them, and throw them at your opponent--bada-bing, bada-boom! In reality, there's a lot more to the game than that. For example, you're given stars if you meet certain conditions, like, "use five skills or more and win." Collect enough of them and you're granted access to secret areas that provide you with the best (or at least rarest) Sushi Sprites around. The thing is, some of these requirements are ridiculous. Oh, well, nothing worth having comes easy, as the saying goes.