Friday, December 05, 2014

Shall We Do It? (Fantasy Life, Final Fantasy Explorers Light and Solitiba)

There's a reason I haven't published one of these posts in some time. (Not since Oct. 14, in fact.) Actually, there are two reasons, with one being the North American 3DS title, Fantasy Life, and the other being the Japanese 3DS eShop title, Solitiba.

Although I've put far more time into the former than the latter in the last month and a half, I've gotten such a kick out of playing both of them that no other game has been able to steal my attention away from them.

Well, that's not completely true. I forced myself to download the Japanese demo of Square Enix's Final Fantasy Explorers (called Final Fantasy Explorers Light) a weekend or so ago, after all, and even gave it a few plays before stuffing it into a folder somewhere and moving back to Fantasy Life and Solitiba.

Anyway, keep reading if you'd like to read a few more of my thoughts on this trio of 3DS games.

Fantasy Life--You want to know how completely this recent Level-5 release has me wrapped around its finger? I've put 76 hours into it so far, that's how completely.

Actually, I probably should've said "had" rather than "has" in the sentence above, as I haven't booted up Fantasy Life since I played it for about four hours while flying from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Seattle last Friday. Don't worry, I'll get back to it shortly. After all, I've loved pretty much every minute of it so far--and I've spent a lot of minutes with it.

I've accomplished a lot during all those minutes (and hours) of play, of course, although I've yet to finish the game's main story. I believe I'm nearly there, though, so expect me to wrap it up between now and the next time I publish one of these posts.

The fact is, though, that most of what Fantasy Life has to offer people happens outside the confines of its main story--or, rather, happens while the main story is "on pause," so to speak. In my case, for instance, the majority of my experience with the game has been spent leveling up various "lives"--to the point that I've now spent a good amount of time with eight of the 12 jobs included here. (All of them have been brought up to "Hero" level except blacksmith, which is only up to "Master.") My favorites at the moment: archer and angler, I think, although I honestly get a kick out of all of them.

I still find Fantasy Life's verbose nature to be a bit annoying, by the way, but it's easy enough to skip through all of the blather, so don't worry about it too much if you're on the fence about buying the game.

Final Fantasy Explorers Light--Although I downloaded this demo of Square Enix's upcoming Final Fantasy spin-off (for the 3DS) as soon as it was uploaded to the Japanese eShop, I put off playing it until a couple of days ago due to the fact that I've been luke warm (at best) on its art style ever since I first laid eyes on it a few months back.

Which is a shame, as now that I've spent some time with the game and seen its graphics in motion, it really doesn't look all that bad. It also doesn't look stellar, mind you, but it looks better than I thought it would based on my first impressions.

As for the gameplay, all I've gathered so far is that it's quest-heavy--it's similar to the Bravely Default demo, in that regard--and vaguely Monster Hunter-esque, although I hesitate to say the latter as Final Fantasy Explorers seems a lot less strategic than Capcom's money-maker.

I'm going to play Light for a little longer before making a decision about the full game, but I've got to admit that at the moment I'm leaning toward not picking it up--assuming Square Enix even bothers to release it in North America. (Because there's no way I'm importing and playing through the Japanese release.)

In a way, I kind of hope the remainder of my time with Light prompts a change of heart, because for some weird reason I really want to like it--even with its questionable art style. Why couldn't the artist responsible for, say, the original Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles have worked on this sucker?

Solitiba--I actually stepped away from this (sadly) Japan-only offering after putting about 35 hours into it. Not because I was tired of it, mind you, but because my copy of Fantasy Life arrived and I was just a bit more desperate to play it than I was to continue playing Solitba.

Now that I'm taking a bit of a breather from Fantasy Life, though, I have plenty of "brain bandwidth" to devote to Solitiba again.

In case you haven't gathered already, this is one of those games that latches onto you and refuses to let go without a proper fight. I guess that could be due to the fact solitaire is such a prominent part of it--and solitaire's right up there with games like Tetris when it comes to sucking you in and wasting more of your time than you thought it would, although of course it could be argued that one is a bit less exciting than the other--but I don't think that's entirely what's going on here.

No, I think the real reason Solitiba is so easy to pick up, and so hard to put down, is that all of its elements--the solitaire portions, the horse-racing segments, the magnificent art style, Game Freak's "golden touch"--combine and conspire to produce a whole that's far more enticing than the sum of these aforementioned parts.

As a result, I really hope the folks at Game Freak--or Nintendo, or some other publisher--are toiling away on English and other language versions of Solitiba, because I honestly consider it to be a gem that people all around the world, and not just those in Japan (or those, like me, who own Japanese 3DS systems), should be given an chance to experience.

See also: previous 'Shall We Do It?' posts

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

20 years of PlayStation memories

In case you weren't aware already, Sony's monumental first foray into the world of video-game consoles (after the botched Super Famicom CD-ROM attachment, of course) made its initial appearance on Japanese store shelves 20 years ago today.

(North Americans didn't get their hands on the system until Sept. 9, 1995, while Europeans had to wait until Sept. 29 of the same year and Australians had to wait until Nov. 15.)

In honor of that fact, I thought I'd share some of my "PlayStation memories."

One of my earliest such memories relates to the PlayStation's Japanese launch. I'm pretty sure I wore out the pages of the DieHard GameFan, Electronic Gaming Monthly and other magazines that covered its development and release (as well as the release of the Sega Saturn and the NEC PC-FX). Thanks to those articles, I was all but set to buy a Japanese Saturn from a retailer I can't remember (it was one of the many that advertised within the pages of the above-mentioned publications back then) when I came across screenshots of some of the PlayStation's most newsworthy launch and launch-window titles--Battle Arena Toshinden, Crime Crackers, Jumping Flash! and Ridge Racer.

For whatever reason, the first and last of the above-mentioned games were the ones that nearly prompted me to pick up a Japanese PlayStation rather than a Saturn. Granted, at the time, GameFan's writers, especially, were pushing both of them as being akin to the Second Coming, so don't give me too hard of a time about the fact that I once pined for a game (Battle Arena Toshinden) that later was revealed to be a bit of a turd.

Still, even now it's easy to see why I and others were blown away by the experiences the PlayStation was able to produce. We were coming from the era of the Mega Drive (Genesis), PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16) and Super Famicom (SNES), after all, and we were used to pixels and sprites and two-dimensional games. Seeing three-dimensional games that were produced using polygons was mighty foreign, not to mention thrilling, to most of us--especially those, like me, who tended to ignore PC gaming.

In the end, though, I dropped a boatload of hard-earned cash on a Japanese (gray) Saturn rather than a PlayStation, mainly because I was completely obsessed with two games that were released around the same time as Sega's console: Clockwork Knight and Panzer Dragoon.

Strangely, I can't for the life of me remember when I finally bought a PlayStation. All I know is that the system had been out for some time before I acquired one.

I do remember what pushed me over the edge, though: Final Fantasy Tactics. For whatever reason, although the much-ballyhooed (especially at the time) Final Fantasy 7 left me feeling cold--I rented it and a PlayStation system from the local video joint shortly after its North American release--this tactical spin-off had the opposite effect on me. In fact, I was so gung-ho about it that just one week with it (thanks to the same video store I mentioned a second ago) was all I needed to run out to the nearest big-box store and buy both a PlayStation and a copy of this game.

That ended up being both a blessing and a curse, of course, as I quickly became obsessed with Yasumi Matsuno's masterpiece--to the point where I played it for hours on end, often in lieu of completing my homework.

A number of other PlayStation games also have left an impression on me over the years, of course--games like PaRappa the Rapper, SaGa Frontier and Umihara Kawase Shun, just to name a few--but none of them hit me as hard as the one that forced me to (finally) give Sony and its PlayStation console a chance. Because of that--and a slew of additional reasons--it'll always have a place in my heart.

So, those are just a few of my own "PlayStation memories." What are some of yours? Please feel free share them in the comments section of this post, if you're up for it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

All I want for Christmas is ...

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. OK, so that isn't completely true here in Seattle, although we did get a dusting of snow over the weekend. (A rarity here, I assure you.)

Still, it certainly feels like Christmas here, or it's starting to feel like it. As such, I can't stop thinking about my holiday "wish list"--which is kind of funny, as I'm sure to get a small handful of presents from my parents this year and that's about much it. (That's not a complaint, mind you. I'm just pointing out how things work in my family circle at this point in time. And given that, producing a "wish list," as I've done here, is kind of pointless.)

You don't really need to know the details of my family's gift-giving traditions, though, do you? No, you do not. So, let's push all of that to the side and get to the contents of my kinda-sorta holiday wish list:

1. A couple of Japanese and North American DS games--Which ones? Here are a few of the DS games I'd love to add to my ever-growing collection: the first Ace Attorney title, Final Fantasy Tactics A2, Ghost Trick and Okamiden. As for Japanese releases, the ones currently topping my "obtain as soon as humanly possible" list include Dig Dug: Digging Strike, Nanashi no Game and Ni no Kuni.

2. Cyber Neko-Nyan silicon cover for 3DS LL/XL--I've wanted one of these suckers ever since the guys over at Tiny Cartridge first mentioned them in a post. Specifically, I want the pink one for my pink-and-white (North American) 3DS XL and the tortoiseshell one (above) for my black-and-gold Pokémon Center (Japanese) 3DS LL.

3. Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley--Although I love that my parents got me a copy of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call for my birthday, if I'm allowed to be completely honest, I kind of wished they'd gotten me this 3DS game instead, as I've been curious about it since the first screenshots of it popped up months ago. Oh, well, that's what wish lists like this are for, right?

4. "Kirby Taikoushin" hard cover--Yep, another 3DS LL/XL accessory. I'm kind of hesitant to ask for this one, though, as I'm worried that attaching it to, or removing it from, my system may scratch its surface. Still, I'm willing to risk that thanks to the overwhelmingly adorable design of this particular "hard cover." (I especially like the message on the bottom lid: "Pink. Puffy. Powerful.")

5. "Kirby Friends" soft pouch--Isn't this just the cutest thing? Seriously, it's so cute it makes me want to barf--and I mean that in the most positive way possible. Another reason I want one of these beauties (which can be bought here): I just know my pink-and-white 3DS XL would feel right at home tucked inside of it.

6. Light pink/white PS Vita--If I'm going to get a Vita, it's got to be the pink-tastic version showcased above. Sadly, it's only available in Japan at the moment (and is unlikely to ever see an official release in North America), but that's not as unfortunate as it sounds given the strength of the dollar--in comparison to the yen, at least--right now.

Now that I've had my say, which systems, games or even game-related items are you hoping to receive from your loved ones this holiday season?

Monday, December 01, 2014

Square Enix may never give us another SaGa game, but at least they gave us this GameBoy entry (and its two sequels)

It's kind of hard to believe in 2014 that there was a time when Westerners had little to no access to Japanese RPGs.

A lot of that changed around the time I first got into gaming--which is to say, around the time Nintendo published the original Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy games in North America in late 1989 and early 1990, respectively.

The first JRPG that really had an impact on me, though, was 1990's The Final Fantasy Legend, a GameBoy title that began life in Japan as Makai Toushi SaGa (aka SaGa).

I mean, I spent a bunch of time with both of the above-mentioned NES RPGs as a gaming noob, but neither of those titles sucked me in like The Final Fantasy Legend (and, a few months later, the North American version of Final Fantasy IV).

In a way, that kind of surprises me, as I distinctly remember being confounded (and even disappointed) by some aspects of this portable adventure. The breakable weapons are one example, and the Dragon Quest-esque (i.e., invisible party members) battle scenes are another.

Both of those niggles eventually grew on me, of course--or maybe I should say I grew to respect, if not completely adore, them.

Anyway, I mention all of this in order to explain why I recently picked up the complete-in-box copy of the Japanese version of The Final Fantasy Legend, SaGa, that can be seen throughout this post.

Admittedly, nostalgia wasn't the only reason I bought this copy of SaGa. Two more reasons were: this particular copy was pretty darn cheap (less than $10, including shipping) and I hoped it might be another game that could be put to use in my journey to learn the Japanese language.

If you're looking for a few additional reasons to purchase your own copy of SaGa, you may want to consider the photos of the game's instruction manual that I've published here. Needless to say, it's chock-full of awesome illustrations.

Have any of you played any version of this handheld JRPG? If so, what are your thoughts on it, or what are your memories of it?

See also: previous 'Year of the GameBoy' posts

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Don't forget: it's still the 'Year of the GameBoy'

I may be planning to publish a meaty series of posts about Nintendo's DS next year (oops, did I just say that?), but my (primary) focus for the remainder of this year will be the company's first handheld system, the GameBoy.

That shouldn't come as much of a surprise to those of you who have popped in here for some time, as I've already published a ton of "Year of the GameBoy" posts since I started this series back in the middle of February. In fact, I've published 40 such posts in the ensuing nine or so months, if you can believe it.

Quite a few more of these posts are yet to come, of course--some of which likely will be published next year. (I guess I'll have to declare 2015 to be "Another Year of the GameBoy"?)

In the meantime, I thought some of you might want to check out some of the "Year of the GameBoy" posts that are available right now. My favorites, in case anyone's wondering:

* "The Great Gaymathon Review #66: Painter Momopie"

* "The Great Gaymathon Review #67: Kitchen Panic"

* "I guess you could say I bought Bubble Bobble's GameBoy port because of its box art"

* "Manual Stimulation: Ghostbusters 2"

Another "Year of the GameBoy" post will be published tomorrow, by the way. I wonder which game will serve as its focus?

See also: all of the 'Year of the GameBoy' posts that have been published so far