Wednesday, December 04, 2019

A few impressions of and pieces of advice on the recently released Romancing SaGa 3 remake now that I've put more than 20 hours into it

My original plan was to wait until early 2020 to buy the recently released Romancing SaGa 3 remake. Everything changed, though, when Square Enix slapped a 20-percent discount on this long-awaited role-playing game during its launch window.

Still, I assumed I wouldn't actually play it for weeks, if not months--what with Pokémon Shield's imminent arrival (at the time) and all. Boy, was I wrong. Romancing SaGa 3 dug its hooks into me within minutes of being booted up for the very first time.

Over 20 hours later, I'm thoroughly enjoying it and ignoring the new Pokémon title.

Why am I enjoying this Romancing SaGa 3 remake-remaster-whatever-you-want-to-call-it so thoroughly? Here are the main reasons, plus a couple of complaints that, if addressed, would prompt me to like this pixelated adventure even more than I already do.

Oh, and I'm tossing in a few pieces of advice at the end as a bonus--just in case any of you decide to buy it down the road as well.

I love how the map opens up as you talk to NPCs--I'm sure other RPGs have utilized a similar system, where you only gain access to towns and dungeons and other locations after a non-player character (NPC) mentions them, but this is the first one I've played. There's something surprisingly thrilling about exiting to the world map and seeing a new area or two pop up out of nowhere, begging to be explored.

It's worth playing for the weird potential party members alone--My current Romancing SaGa 3 party includes a blue elephant, a pink-haired fairy, and a bard who bears a striking resemblance to Final Fantasy IV's Gogo. And they're only the tip of the iceberg here. Additional options include an anthropomorphic snowman, a similarly human-esque lobster, and a Batman wannabe. Eat your heart out, bog-standard JRPGs.

"Sparking" new skills here is as exhilarating as it is in every SaGa game--Admittedly, it isn't as exhilarating as it is in SaGa Frontier, or at least it isn't to me. But there's no denying my heart skips a beat whenever a little lightbulb appears over the head of one of my party members, alerting me to the fact that he, she, or it is about to learn a new battle skill. My only complaint is that I wish it would happen with more frequency. I've gone through a lot of dry spells so far in my 20 or so hours with the game, and that's not only unacceptable, it's boring.

Although I appreciate that Romancing SaGa 3 is mysterious, I wish it would explain things a bit more than it does--You've probably heard that this game, like its predecessors and successors, has the barest of stories. It's true, but that honestly hasn't bothered me much. Far more irksome has been that it's often similarly tight-lipped about how things like magic and combo attacks operate. Some of it can be sussed out via trial and error, but not all of it. Harrumph.

I wish the town music was more varied--I adore Romancing SaGa 3's soundtrack on the whole, but something that really bugs me about it is a good number of towns feature the exact same background tune. Even worse, that particular song is my least favorite of the ones I've heard up to this point.

Where's the fast-forward button, Square Enix?--Both Bravely Default and Octopath Traveler let players speed up battles with the touch of a button. Why on earth doesn't Romancing SaGa 3 allow the same? Especially since it features the slowest fights of this trio of titles. These lackadaisical battles aren't dealbreakers, mind you, but they do get a tad boring now and then.

Has what I've said thus far got you itching to pick up a copy of Romancing SaGa 3? If so, keep the following pieces of advice in mind as you continue to contemplate your purchase--or as you start your way through the game (if it's already taking up space on your PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Vita, or phone).

If you hate RPGs that lack explorable overworlds, look elsewhere--I enjoy racing across an ever-changing overworld as much as anyone. That's not something you get to do while playing Romancing SaGa 3, however. Instead, you get to choose between icons--representing caves, forests, towns, and the like--unceremoniously plopped onto a map. It's kind of a bummer at first, but it saves time in the long run, so I personally consider the whole she-bang a wash.

Also look elsewhere if you absolutely need a grand story in your RPGs--Most SaGa games aren't story-focused affairs. Romancing SaGa 3 is no different. That doesn't mean it's story-free, though. In fact, it offers up plenty of little snippets of stories through the numerous quests it tosses your way. Many of them are surprisingly unique for the genre, too, so if you're at all open-minded in this area, give the title a go despite the fact that its gameplay isn't tied to a novel-worthy tale.

Try not to psyche yourself out--Yes, Romancing SaGa 3 can be obtuse. And yes, Romancing SaGa 3 can be difficult. It's not so obtuse or difficult that it's impossible to finish, though. In fact, if your first playthrough is anything like mine has been so far, you'll enjoy long stretches when the proceedings seem positively ho-hum. So don't keep the game at arm's length simply because you're scared it'll be too much for you.

Prepare to see your party wiped out a lot--Part of the fun of playing a SaGa game, in my experience, is tucking into dungeons or taking on bosses you know nothing about and seeing how you fare. That often results in your ass being handed to you, admittedly. As such, try to embrace dying in Romancing SaGa 3. It's going to happen a lot, no matter what you do. Accept rather than fear it and you'll get a lot more enjoyment out of the experience.

Don't worry about grinding--One of the main things that's made me wary about playing both Romancing SaGa 2 and 3 is the oft-repeated warning that grinding in either game can be a bad idea. As in, grinding does more than toughen up your party members; it toughens up enemies, too. Well, here's some good news for you: while that's true--to a point--you shouldn't have to worry about it much. Although there are no random battles in this game, you'll be forced into them regularly enough that grinding is sure to be the last thing on your mind.

Embrace FAQs and walkthroughs--Going through a game blindly is an admirable feat. That said, I wouldn't suggest doing so with Romancing SaGa 3. Not only will it make your journey a lot more challenging, but it'll likely cause you to miss a bunch of cool characters and quests along the way as well. This blog is a great source of information, as is this shrine.

See also: 'Five reasons I would've paid full price for the Switch version of Dandy Dungeon if Onion Games had forced me to do so'

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Manual Stimulation: Osawagase! Penguin Boy (GameBoy)

Osawagase! Penguin Boy's in-game graphics are cute as a button.

The same can't be said of this 1990 release's box art, which I find almost bizarrely ugly.

In fact, I found it so off-putting when I first bought my copy of the game that I waited over a year to open its instruction booklet--because I assumed it, too, was hideous.

Boy, was I wrong.

The Osawagase! Penguin Boy manual may not qualify as a stunner--like the manuals made for Bubble Bobble, Ghostbusters 2, and Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru surely are--but it's lovely nonetheless.

One reason for that is the manual made for Osawagase! Penguin Boy, renamed Amazing Penguin when it hit the streets of North America in 1991, kicks off with a multi-page comic. Yes, à la the Snow Bros. Jr. manual.

Said comic looks pretty hilarious, too. Not that I full understand everything that goes on within it, mind you.

Still, the high-quality illustrations nearly make the entire package--and I'm including the box and game cartridge here--worth the price of admission all on their own.

Interestingly, the Osawagase! Penguin Boy manual waits until the sixth page to detail the game's story. I guess its designers really wanted to rope in readers with the comic strip.

Next, we have some explanation as to how Osawagase! Penguin Boy plays. It's a fun little game, by the way, if you've yet to experience it for yourself. It's a bit like Taito's Qix, though cuter and more energetic.

Also, you get to kick objects at on-coming enemies in Osawagase! Penguin Boy. It's surprisingly satisfying.

Speaking of satisfying, that's just one of the words I'd use to describe the manual spread that showcases Osawagase! Penguin Boy's enemies. I mean, what's up with that bear character? Is he riding a cloud, or a baguette? Also, props to the bird boss exclaiming, "Love and Peace!"

Sadly, I have no clue--or little clue--as to the focus of these last two pages. I know the header on the left-hand page says something like "First Present!" but what does that mean?

If any of you have a better understanding of Japanese than I do (not a high bar to clear, if I'm to be honest) and can educate the rest of us as to what's going on in the final spread of the Osawagase! Penguin Boy instruction booklet, I'd be beyond thankful.

See also: the Japanese Penguin-kun Wars Vs. and Penguin Land GameBoy manuals

Thursday, November 21, 2019

15 Nintendo DS games you should think about starting in honor of the system's 15th anniversary

It's hard to believe the Nintendo DS came out 15 years ago today.

Some of you may be surprised to hear I haven't been playing this dual-screened, touch-enabled system since that date.

The truth is, I waited a couple of years before jumping into the fray. In fact, I waited until I was about to head out on a business trip and worried I'd be bored during my down time, so I bought a white DS Lite and a copy of Animal Crossing: Wild World to keep lethargy at bay.

It didn't do the trick. Nor did it transform me into a Nintendo DS fan. So what did? I honestly can't remember. All I know is I turned a corner at some later point and never looked back.

I've bought and played and loved a ton of DS games in the ensuing years. The ones named and discussed below are among my favorites.

If you're looking to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Nintendo DS' release, I'd highly recommend starting one--or more--of them as soon as you can.

A Witch's Tale--Although the word of mouth on this game is pretty poor, I had an absolute blast with it last month. It's a role-playing game with turn- and touch-based battles plus a few other interesting twists. It's also fairly short, especially as far as RPGs are concerned. The cherry on top of this pixel-filled confection: the protagonist is a girl. A bratty girl at the beginning, to be sure, but her attitude improves by leaps and bounds as A Witch's Tale progresses.

Contact--I finally played this Grasshopper Manufacture-made game (after keeping it at arm's length for ages) because I liked its EarthBound-esque aesthetic and its European cover art. I quickly discovered that it plays nothing like Shigesato Itoi's classic. This ARPG manages to hold its own anyway, though, thanks in large part to its intriguing, fourth-wall-breaking story and unique costume system.

Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime--This is another of those games that I long ignored simply because it annoyed me that everyone and their mother seemed to adore it. I got over myself eventually. I'm glad I did, too, as I now consider Rocket Slime to be an all-time fave. Why? You play as one of the Dragon Quest series' iconic slimes, for starters. Plus, the writing is silly and the tank battles that end each stage are scintillating.

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light--This Matrix Software-developed game has its detractors, but it's my favorite DS RPG. Yes, it's got a few issues, which I briefly touched on in this old post, but it makes up for them with its overall appearance, its creative job system, and its ear-pleasing soundtrack. If you're looking for a role-playing game that harkens back to the glory days of Final Fantasy IV or V, pick up a copy ASAP.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective--Most folks call this Shu Takumi creation a visual novel, and while they're not wrong, I do think they're selling it a bit short with that description. Ghost Trick is more of a puzzler than an adventure game, if you ask me. After all, your main task while playing it is to, in the simplest terms possible, quickly connect dots while time clicks away. Don't worry, it's a lot more interesting and engaging--and difficult--than my pithy description here makes it sound.

Hotel Dusk--This CiNG-developed point-and-click game should've become a break-out hit like chart-toppers Animal Crossing: Wild World and Brain Age. I guess the masses just weren't interested in solving novel-worthy mysteries after they were done running errands for furry villagers and training their gray matter. That's too bad, as Hotel Dusk offers players a lot more than an enjoyable whodunit. It also offers them a fascinating cast of characters and some killer tunes.

My World, My Way--You might think of this DS title as being similar to both A Witch's Tale, mentioned earlier, and the much-maligned Super Princess Peach. It's like the latter in that both games' protagonists use their emotions to battle and even interact with enemies as well as alter their surroundings. And it's like the former in that it's a decidedly unconventional RPG. There's no real overworld to traverse in My World, My Way, for example--just small areas that open up as you complete various tasks and actions. Admittedly, this part of the game can be tedious, but you shouldn't find it so tedious it ruins the rest of the adventure.

Okamiden--Capcom may not consider this title to be an actual sequel to its highly revered, but lowly selling, Okami, but don't let the lack of a "2" at the end of its name fool you. Okamiden is a worthy follow-up to the company's original Zelda clone. There are a few elements here that are sure to give some hardcore Okami fans pause--the chibi-fied visuals, in particular. Still, the DS' touch screen is the perfect canvas for the series' "Celestial Brush," and that alone should sway most skeptics.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney--I'm sure some of you will have a hard time swallowing this one. After all, the very same game can be played on far more modern and accessible devices and systems than the DS. This is the last release of the original Ace Attorney that features pixel-based graphics, though, and that alone makes it the go-to option for folks who still have a dual-screened, Nintendo-branded handheld.

Quick Spot--A few months ago, I asked folks on Twitter to recommend some fun, under-the-radar DS titles. Two people I both like and respect suggested I try this one. And do I did, though I was hesitant at first. Quick Spot--Unou no Tatsujin: Soukai! Machigai Museum in Japan--is one of those spot-the-difference or photo-hunt games. Not exactly my cup of tea. What separates this one from the o-hum hpack is that it features a plethora of beautiful illustrations produced by the wizards at Namco. There's not much more to it than that, to be honest, but that was enough for me to spend a full five hours finishing its 100-plus stages (images?) a few months back.

Rhythm Heaven--Rhythm Tengoku diehards aren't aways kind to the series' first sequel. Me, I adore it. Sure, it's not the definition of perfection like its GameBoy Advance predecessor, but it's pretty wonderful all the same. That's especially true of this game's aesthetic, which matches and maybe even exceeds that of the original. I personally think the vast majority of Rhythm Heaven's new tap- and flick-based mini-games are stellar, too.

Style Savvy--I'm fully aware that most, if not all, of this game's sequels have surpassed it in terms of both graphics and content. Still, I think the 2009 original is worth checking out for one simple reason: you play it with your system held sideways. So, if you're like me and you're a sucker for book-style DS titles, give it a try. An added bonus: used copies are dirt cheap these days.

Tetris DS--Some will tell you the GameBoy version of Tetris has yet to be topped. Am I a member of that group? I'm not sure, to be honest. Regardless, I think the argument could be made that this DS iteration deserves the title of "best Tetris game ever," too, thanks to its Nintendo cameos, underrated soundtrack, and bevy of inventive modes.

The World Ends With You--There are all kinds of reasons you should play The World Ends With You if you haven't already. One is that it's a Square Enix title but isn't called Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, or Kingdom Hearts. Another is that it oozes style. And then there are the unique setting, the eclectic soundtrack, and the frenetic dual-screened battles. The mobile and Switch versions of The World Ends With You also feature those first two components, of course, but you'll only find the last one on this DS cart.

Touch Detective--Like a lot of people, I was first attracted to this point-and-clicker's Beetlejuice-esque art style. OK, so I also liked its anthropomorphic mushroom character, Nameko (Funghi outside of Japan), quite a bit. On a less positive note, the cases you're tasked with solving in this BeeWorks-made game can be a touch confusing. Everything else about it is so silly and charming and bizarre that I think it's worth a go anyway if you have even the slightest interest.

Are there any DS games you'd recommend that I failed to point out in this post? If so, let me know about them in the comments section below.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

To the person who pointed out two pages were missing from my post about the Magical Puzzle Popils manual: that's no longer the case

Three or so years ago, someone pointed out that two pages of the Magical Puzzle Popils instruction booklet were missing from this old "Manual Stimulation" post of mine.

Unfortunately, that comment came in while my husband and I were on sabbatical. I didn't have my copy of this Sega Game Gear puzzler or access to a scanner at the time, so I couldn't rectify the situation then.

I finally rectified it the other day, but who knows if the person who made me aware of the gaffe is still waiting to see the full Magical Puzzle Popils manual?

In the off chance they are, I decided to publish the post you're reading right now to let them know it's finally available in all its "Magical Guide" glory. (Click on the link above to see it.)

That's not the only reason I'm publishing this post, though. I'm also doing so because I want more people to know about this wonderful Game Gear title, which the late, great Fukio Mitsuji developed for the now-defunct Tengen.

If Mitsuji's name doesn't ring a bell, he's the brainchild behind two games you should know well: Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands.

Unlike that pair of Mitsuji creations, Magical Puzzle Popils, renamed Popils: The Blockbusting Challenge when it hit European store shelves in 1992, challenges your brain rather than your reflexes.

Popils is just as cute as those classics, though, if not quite as kaleidoscopically colorful. It also matches their blissful soundtracks.

Add it all up, and you've got one of my five favorite Game Gear games. Is the Magical Puzzle Popils instruction manual a favorite, too? I'll let you be the judge of that.

See also: five Game Gear games you need to play as soon as possible

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Manual Stimulation: Banishing Racer (GameBoy)

Given the brilliance of Banishing Racer's box art, its instruction booklet must be similarly magnificent, right?

To be completely honest, I find the Banishing Racer manual a bit disappointing.

I say that mainly because I love every other aspect of this Japan-only GameBoy game, published by Jaleco Entertainment during the summer of 1991. To me, Banishing Racer's cover art, in-game graphics, soundtrack, and even story are marvelous.

The kookiness that's on full display in each of the above-mentioned areas is barely noticeable while flipping through the game's instruction manual.

The story spread of the Banishing Racer manual is a welcome exception, thanks to the portraits that sit behind the text.

Speaking of which, that's not City Connection's Clarice on the left, is it? I know it doesn't look like her, but you never know--maybe she got her hair done between when that game wrapped up and this one began.

I know it's not always easy to spruce up the pages of a game manual that tell readers how things work, but surely this one's designers could've offered up something more than a simple--and small--rendering of the GameBoy hardware?

Here comes my favorite page of any game manual that's worth its salt--the page that showcases the game's items.

Unfortunately, Banishing Racer features just three items. A bit of a head-scratcher considering the game is a side-scroller, don't you think?

The Banishing Racer instruction booklet wraps up with a look at the game's five stages, each of which consist of three areas.

These stages are based on real-life American cities, by the way. Your journey starts in San Francisco and then takes you and your adorably anthropomorphic car character through Las Vegas, Denver, and Detroit, before concluding in New York City.

See also: 'Five more overlooked Japanese GameBoy games you need to play as soon as possible'